The Highway by C.J. Box

18868651Fiction — Kindle edition. Minotaur Books, 2017. Originally published 2013. 398 pgs. Library copy.

Two years after the events of Back of Beyond, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Cody Hoyt has stayed sober, reunited with his ex-wife and teenage son, and been assigned a new investigating partner, Cassie Dewell. Cassie is a so-called “diversity hire” — a single mother on a male-dominated force — but Cody sees promise in the young deputy and considers the hiring to be one of the few good choices his boss has made.

Until, that is, Cassie works with their boss to catch Cody planting evidence. The photos Cassie takes strips Cody of his badge, and Cody tries to find solace in the bottle. His solace is interrupted — first by Cassie trying to explain her actions and second by his son, Justin, asking for help locating Danielle and Gracie, who have gone missing on the highway 89 outside Yellowstone National Park.

Unbeknownst to Cody or Cassie, the highways of Montana and the Rocky Mountains have been stalked by a truck driver referring to himself as “the Lizard King”. While he usually targets the prostitutes found at truck stops across America (also known as “lot lizards”), the Lizard King has set his sights on the two young women who tried to race past him on I-90.

This novel is infamous in my family as it was often referenced as proof that my mother should not be allowed to select audiobooks for long drives. No one wants to hear about a murderer driving on the same highway they’re currently on. But I also experienced the “must finish now!” feeling that my mom wrote about in her 2015 review:

“…we were so caught up in this creepy story about a long-haul trucker that we listened for 6 hours straight, even as we drove past the area east of Billings where the story begins”.

There have been some murmurings among fans of crime novels about not reading books where women are the victims. The argument goes that such stories are so overdone and common that they normalize violence against women. If there was ever a book that would cause me to think about signing on to that ban, it would be this one.

It is so violent, so creepy, and somewhat blasé in the way the victims are discussed. The “lot lizards” are nameless. Danielle is presented as an airhead and promiscuous who, in the tradition of smut films, is to blame for what happens to her. Unlike her sister Gracie, who is a virgin and told Danielle not to drive her car off I-90 when its engine light is on.

There are some redeeming aspects of the novel, though. Once again, Box’s writing kept me on my toes. To quote my mom (with a spoiler warning):

“Bad guys running loose. “Good guys” are corrupt. Good guys who people think are bad guys get killed….C.J. Box doesn’t stick to the formulas, which drove my husband nuts, as he hates it when good guys die.”

I already have the third book in this series downloaded to my Kindle as I’m curious to see where Box takes the story now that Cody is gone. My dad already told me that the Lizard King is still alive and trucking in the next book, though, and I must admit that tidbit has me hesitating on picking it up. I’ll need a good palette cleanser on hand if the Lizard King’s chapters are as graphic and the roads are as familiar to me as they were with this one.

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