Friday, September 6, 2013

C.J. Box Drives Along The Highway

The Highway by C.J. Box
Expect The Highway by C.J. Box to be plagued with mixed reviews, especially from readers who were surprised by author's slide into a fast-paced disturbing page turner. While many of them were expecting another mystery, this dark and twisted tale is much more direct. And then there is something else. 

Box makes it expediently clear: Protagonists aren't safe in his stories. So anyone who has taken a liking to bulldog cop Cody Hoyt (introduced in Back From Beyond, 2011) will be taken aback in the first few pages as he tries to help an investigation along by planting evidence in a trash can. As soon as the incident is reported, he is abruptly and unceremoniously fired.

Under normal circumstances, Detective Cassandra Dewell would still be able to sleep at night for turning in what some people might call a dirty cop. But unfortunately for her, law enforcement is not always black and white. The man who convinced her to file a report has his own stake in making sure Hoyt can't connect the dots in a murder case.

Hoyt never needed to be a cop more than the day he was fired.

Facing the harsh reality that his law enforcement career is over, Hoyt retreats to the closest bar to commiserate with his fellow alcoholics. And that's where Dewell finds him as she attempts to reconcile her betrayal and seek out forgiveness. She suspected Hoyt was going to be suspended, not fired. 

At the same time Hoyt's career is coming to a crashing end, his son needs him more than ever. A few hours ago, Justin Hoyt received a call from from his soon-to-be former girlfriend Danielle Sullivan and her sister Gracie. Instead of joining their father for Thanksgiving, Danielle had convinced her sister to head toward Helena so she might have another shot at salvaging their relationship. 

On any other day, this might be inconvenient at best and awkward at worst. Except in this case, Danielle and Gracie decide to take a detour through the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park to avoid a highway closure that would have left them stranded. Justin Hoyt hasn't heard from them since.

They aren't the only ones who decided to take the same route. The long-haul trucker with whom they had a road rage altercation a few miles before the turnoff is following suit. He has his reasons too. 

Like the girls, the Lizard King doesn't want to get caught in a standstill. But more than that, Danielle and Gracie picked the wrong trucker to piss off. For more than a dozen years, he has trolled long stretches of highways looking for prostitutes, runaways and vulnerable girls on lonely roads.

A few graphs about C.J. Box and his darkly direct book. 

C.J. Box
Although unforgivingly chilling at times, C.J. Box surrenders some suspense in the telling in favor of painting a portrait of two serial killers working together. In doing so, he alternates back and forth between several perspectives before their stories eventually converge as you know they will.

Interestingly enough, both Dewell and the Lizard King get slightly more attention as the story plays out along the shrinking wilderness of Montana with splashes of Colorado and Wyoming. Box does an especially great job making the expansiveness feel especially claustrophobic along back country road and small towns. 

Best known for his Joe Pickett series, Box is the bestselling author of 17 novels that have won numerous awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel in 2009. His short stories have also been featured in several best of anthologies. 

As a former ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide and tourism marketer, he knows Wyoming and the surrounding states well. This year, he put out two novels, this standalone featuring Cody Hoyt and Breaking Point, which is part of the Joe Pickett series. 

The Highway By C.J. Box Drives By 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

While many people are saying this is not his best work, the standalone novel makes a compelling case for anyone who hasn't been introduced to Box. He is an incredibly sure-handed writer who appreciates his surroundings and works hard to create complete characters who leap off the page. He also throws a good curve ball toward the middle of the story while leaving enough loose ends to pick up some characters where he leaves them off. It's thrilling, entertaining and enjoyable throughout.

The Highway by C.J. Box can be found on Amazon. You can also order the novel from Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks. The audiobook, The Highway, is read by Holter Graham, who does exceedingly well with the large cast of characters, only occasionally throwing readers by swapping some vocal characteristics of two characters when they appear together for the first time.

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