“Badlands” by C. J. Box brings back the exciting character of Cassie Dewell, who can best be described as a female Joe Pickett. Readers are wondering if Box is creating another suspenseful and riveting series. As with all his books, he allows the Western landscape to become almost a supporting character.
The plot highlights Grimstand, N. D., a booming oil town similar to the Old West during the Gold Rush. Readers become acquainted with this town when Cassandra (Cassie) decides to accept the job there as the chief investigator for Sherriff Jon Kirkbride. She is looking forward to starting a new life and to put behind the hurtful memories of Montana, and losing her husband, a soldier killed in Afghanistan.
The new job entails leading an investigation to find corrupt cops, while at the same time finding out what is behind a fatal car crash. Along with these duties she must deal with a war between a motorcycle gang and the Salvadorian MS-13. She must navigate a murderous enemy, a key witness, Kyle Westergaard, and swarming single men. The details about the oil shale industry (fracking), are intertwined in the plot through the various investigations.
“I wrote Cassie’s husband as a soldier killed in Afghanistan. I want Americans to understand the anguish of a war widow, and a son who never will have met his dad,” Box said. “I think many times those fighting the War on Terror are overlooked. Many of us can name battles of World War II, but I doubt many civilians can name a battle from Afghanistan.”
With the Kyle character, Box gives a shout out to mentally challenged individuals. Kyle is a 12-year-old who is considered slow, almost invisible to the rest of the town. Having fetal alcohol syndrome he talks very little, and has a hard time pronouncing his words. But he is the key to the plot with his tenacious and loyal attitude. When the story is told through his point of view it gives the readers a different perspective.
“Over the years I had a lot of kids in books and wrote from their point of view,” Box told blackfive.net. “I realized in my stories I never had boys, only girls. I guess that was because I have only daughters. One of my daughters works for family services so I asked her for help about writing a character with fetal alcohol syndrome. I found out there are children who suffer from mild to devastating symptoms. I wrote Kyle with a mild case although he is still over looked by the townspeople. Yet, in his own way Kyle is sharp and can connect the dots.”
The main character, Cassie, is gritty, intelligent, tough, determined, and willing to take risks. She is not the typical hero in that she is plump, a widow, and a mother. But she is also very talented and will not hesitate to bend the rules to get answers.
“Badlands” is part stand-alone, and part sequel to “The Highway.” Although the main piece of “Badlands” has its own storyline, there is a continuation of the plot from “The Highway.” Cassie is still after the serial killer known as the Lizard King who preys on girls at highway rest stops.
J. Box is one of those authors who turn all books into gold. He writes thrilling and captivating stories that are fast-moving and riveting. Along with his descriptive settings and compelling characters the plots are always page-turners that keeps readers on the edge of their seats.
Fans might be able to see his characters and stories on the TV screen since David E. Kelly is taking the pilot script for “The Highway” to Amazon and/or Netflix while Robert Redford is shopping the Joe Pickett series to Hallmark and the National Geographic Channel.