“Paradise Valley” by C. J. Box is the finale in the “Highway Quartet Series.” Each book is interconnected starting with “Back Of Beyond” that introduces former sheriff Cody Hoyt. In the next book of the series, “The Highway,” he becomes the mentor of his rookie partner Cassie Dewell as they battle the serial killer the Lizard King. Box has come full circle ending in the same setting that it all began in, Paradise Valley with Cassie driven by events that happened in “The Highway.”
Box is “debating internally if I will bring Cassie and Company back. When I finished this book I thought how this series is over, but I am still deciding. I never intended to have two series running at the same time, and for this to be a long running series. In fact, my next book called ‘The Disappeared,’ will be a Joe Pickett story. He is assigned by the Governor to find three English women who have vanished after leaving a dude ranch.”
In this installment, Cassie is out to capture the Lizard King as she seeks restitution for the victims and revenge for what he did to her friend, Cody. For three years, she has been hunting for this serial killer whose stalking grounds are the highways and truck stops, going after runaways and prostitutes. Having a plan to trap him, it goes incredibly wrong where she loses her job as an investigator for the Bakken County, North Dakota sheriff’s department.
The decision to have truck stops as an important aspect to the plot came to Box, “after my youngest daughter was driving back and forth from college to home, and had to deal with all the trucks on the road. The nuts and bolts of the truck information are all realistic. I decided to go on a ride along with this married trucker couple. As we went across the US Northwest I saw what a fascinating, unique and individualistic lifestyle truckers have where the Interstate system is basically their home. This couple literally had two weeks a year, living in their actual ‘home.’”
Deciding to find an actual home, the Lizard King kidnaps two women and two boys. The boys are Cassie’s son’s friend Kyle Westergaard and his buddy Raheem Johnson, who ran away from home, seeking to imitate the adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. After capturing them, this psychopath achieves complete control over his captives through violence by having them wear an electric dog collar. Having nothing else to do Cassie agrees to search for Kyle, which overlaps with her pursuit of the Lizard King.
She is not the conventional heroine, being a bit overweight, a single mom devoted to her son Ben, who juggles motherhood and her career. Having Cassie’s husband, a soldier killed in Afghanistan, Box shows how complicated her life has become. Although this book answers the question about what happens to the Lizard King, her personal life is left open ended.
The supporting cast of characters is very well written. Kyle, first introduced in “Badlands,” returns. Although suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome causing him to have a hard time pronouncing his words, he is sharp and connects the dots. Those helping Cassie in her search are the rough and tough old outfitter Bull Mitchell, while hindering her is the evil Bakken County attorney Avery Tibbs.
Box wanted to write the County Attorney, “Tibbs as the typical political climber who will stop at nothing to get ahead. In my books those concerned more with their own self worth than the general good will get poetic justice. I countered him with Bull Mitchell who was based on a real person. He is a rugged frontier kind of guy who reads to his wife children books because she has Alzheimer’s. Yet, when he is asked to help out and is able to get back in the saddle he comes alive.”
Everyone must contend with the Lizard King, named for kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing truck stop prostitutes, aka “lot lizards.” His Modus Operandi is to lure his victims into his truck, inject them with a syringe filled with Rohypnol, and stash them in the kill-room built into his trailer. He videotapes his sick rituals and tortures his victims for as long as a month before murdering and disposing of them. Cassie knowing some of his tactics is determined to find justice for so many lives lost at the hands of this killer.
The previous books in this series were a bit over the top with the violence, but with this novel Box has found a balance in this gripping tale. Readers should find it mesmerizing.