Paradise Valley by C. J. Box is the fourth and final book in the Highway Quartet (available July 25, 2017).
Cassie Dewell is the chief investigator for the Bakken County Police Department in Grimstad, North Dakota, and she has been on the job for three years. In fact, she used to work at the Sheriff’s Department in Helena, Montana, but Sheriff Jon Kirkbride lured her away with a commitment to stay with him until his retirement—now only three and a half months away. She’s also been chasing a serial killer dubbed The Lizard King (named for the truck stop prostitutes, or “lot lizards,” that he kidnaps and kills) for almost four years, and she’s convinced that they’re close to an arrest. The sting operation she’s set up will surely catch him. Unfortunately, she’s got County Attorney Avery Tibbs looking over her shoulder and demanding every detail:
She said, “Our target is independent—we know that. He doesn’t have a home and he’s constantly on the move. He’s scouring the log board every single day. Our plan was to put a small but profitable offer out there: ten skids of remanufactured oilfield parts to be picked up in Grimstad for delivery in Portland, Oregon. It’s an easy run, especially for a trucker already going east to west. We were banking on the possibility that he’d be coming through with room in his trailer one of these days.”
In fact, Cassie is hoping that a prostitute he picked up (on camera) but never let out of his truck may still be alive. When the man they think is Ronald Pergram, aka The Lizard King, pulls into the warehouse they’ve staked out, things go terribly wrong, resulting in the death of Cassie’s fiancé. Devastated, Cassie finds herself the focus of a smear by Tibbs, and it leads her to quit the force.
“I voiced my concern about your operation at the time,” Tibbs said to Cassie.
“But you didn’t stop it, did you?” she asked. “And you were ready to take the credit if we took the Lizard King into custody.”
“I don’t remember it that way.”
Tibbs cocked his head to the side, obviously confused.
“I lost my fiancée and three other good men who were my friends. I’ve looked around for you at the funerals and I didn’t see you anywhere. And I hate it that you’ve made this about me and how you can one up the sheriff and about how you come out. I hate that.
“But what I hate even more is that there are too many things that don’t make sense about what happened that aren’t even on your radar screen. Pergram was a psycho son of a bitch but I spent years thinking about him. He didn’t stay on the road for all those years because he was lucky. He’s convinced he’s the smartest man in the room, that he can outthink everyone in law enforcement. He’s a reptile who only cares about himself. He might go down in a hail of gunfire, but he’s not a man who would commit suicide by cop.”
“What are you saying?” Tibbs asked.
“Figure it out,” Cassie spat. “And while you’re at it consider how good you’ll look if we find he’s still out there.”
Cassie is disgusted by the direction of the conversation and Tibbs’s seemingly willful blindness, but now she’s at loose ends and is not sure where the investigation, or her career, will go from here.
Meanwhile, 14-year-old Kyle Westergaard—who is a developmentally disabled friend of Cassie’s 12-year-old son, Ben—heads off on an adventure down the Missouri River with his friend Raheem. Kyle’s grandmother contacts Cassie to help find him after she doesn’t hear from him in weeks, and Cassie can’t say no. She also decides to follow up on some leads that might shine some light on Pergram’s whereabouts, eventually enlisting the help of Bull Mitchell, a seasoned outdoorsman who is getting on in age. Despite his daughter’s insistence that he’s not in any shape to go into the wilds of Montana, Bull has other ideas.
This is my first C. J. Box book, and it won’t be my last. He’s got a firm grip on his terrain as well as a good feel for small towns and how they function. Cassie is smart and determined (and frequently funny), and she pits herself against a foe that Box could easily have turned into a caricature, fitting him into the cookie-cutter-killer mold that populates so many thrillers. But he didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, the Lizard King is a nightmare (he uses shock collars to control his captives), but Box details a bit of his past that shines a light on the monster that he’s become. In the end, he’s just a man, one that Cassie is determined to bring down. Fans already familiar with her character (from The Highway and Badlands) will be thrilled, and new readers will certainly find a new addiction.
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