Friday, November 3, 2017

Review: Two short reviews of dark roads thrillers

Review of: The Highway
Author: C.J. Box
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Dallas Public Library
Grade: A

I’d just finished a memoir of the life of a long-haul trucker when The Highway, a thriller by C.J. Box, caught my eye. The memoir lifted my spirits; Box’s book sent the into the darkest, twistiest of tailspins, as his brilliantly-flawed, recovering alcoholic detective, Cody Hoyt, set out on the trail of two missing girls.
image: Pixabay

What bad stuff can possibly happen to a teen driving all night on some of America’s loneliest highways in hopes of surprising a former boyfriend? 

Especially when she’s dragging her younger sister along, in the teeth of a coming winter, in a badly in a car badly in need of maintenance?

What does happen is worse than anyone, even Hoyt, who’s seen some of humanity’s worst during his years of law enforcement experience in the lonely open spaces of the Far West.

Between a corrupt boss who’s afraid Hoyt is too close to uncovering his own secrets, a psychotic serial killer, and an uneasy truce with his lately estranged wife and son, Hoyt has more than enough trouble on his hands. Now Hoyt’s unorthodox investigative methods have got him fired, just as his son’s feckless out of state girlfriend announces she’s on her way for Thanksgiving dinner, only to drop off the grid somewhere in the sprawling reaches of closed for the season Yellowstone Park. 

Hoyt’s rookie former partner, Cassandra “Cassie” Dewell, is willing to back him up, even at the risk of her own job. But Cassie’s investigations reveal that the two sisters aren’t the only females who have disappeared along that stretch of highway. Someone has been systemically stalking women – from hitchhikers to stranded motorists to truck stop prostitutes – for years. 

Hoyt is faced with the most cunning and vicious killer of his career, while every hour brings young sisters Danielle and Gracie closer within the killer’s grasp. Can Hoyt shake off his own self-destructive urges in time to save them?

The Highway had me too engrossed to turn out the lights, even as it wakened all latent fears of darkness. And big trucks. And long, lonely roads, driven late at night.


Review of: Paradise Valley
Author: C.J. Box
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Dallas Public Library
Grade: B

Does anybody do kids in peril as well (and brutally) as C.J. Box? Paradise Valley, the latest in Box’s Highway Quartet, features a pair teen runaways determined to emulate Huckleberry Finn’s exploits by canoeing/rafting down the Missouri River. Unluckily for the boys, they hit the river just as sheriff’s investigator Cassie Dewell is closing in on her nemesis, a serial killer known as the Lizard King.

A long-haul trucker believed to have tortured and killed dozens of women along the country’s highways, the Lizard King has long eluded Cassie and her former mentor, Cody Hoyt. She’s spent years setting a trap for him. But when the bust goes horribly wrong, a county attorney with sights set on higher political goals, makes Cassie the scapegoat. Like Cody Hoyt before her, Cassie is out of a job just when scantily-populated Bakken County, North Dakota, is most in need of competent (and incorruptible) law enforcement.

Cassie could wash her hands of the whole business, but her young son Ben’s best friend, a developmentally disabled teen named Kyle Westergard, has just disappeared. So has one of Kyle’s classmates. And a housewife living in a housing development that went bust when Bakken County’s oil boom dried up. How many people can disappear from the same area in a single day? That just happens to be the day all law enforcement was focused on the disastrous trap set for the Lizard King.

As he has shown in earlier Highway Quartet books, the Lizard King is smarter than the average rural lawmen of the Far West. But even a canny serial killer has his weaknesses. The question is, can Cassie Dewell discover those before it’s too late to save his latest victims?

A previous book in Box’s Highway Quartet hooked me on his lonely Western landscapes where unspeakable human evil mingles with natural beauty. But despite hints that the quartet may extend into further books, this one hits the clichés a little too often for my taste -- a few too many corrupt or incompetent fellow law enforcement officials standing in the way of the loner protagonist; a few too many appearances of stock characters. It's been a good ride, but this highway has run its course.

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