Paradise Valley by C.J. Box

31450664Fiction – print. Minotaur Books, 2017. 340 pgs. Gift.

Two years after the events of Badlands, Chief Investigator Cassie Dewell has finally ensnared the Lizard King in her trap. The serial killer she’s has spent nearly four years chasing is on his way to Grimstead, North Dakota to pick up a load, and Cassie and her fellow officers at the Bakken County Sheriff’s Department are prepared to take him into custody. Cassie is certain he won’t get away this time; cameras at truck stop in Wisconsin confirm he is holding a woman captive.

Cassie’s plan is – literally – blown up, and the new District Attorney is looking for someone to blame in order to save his own hide. Stripped of her badge and the respect of her fellow officers, Cassie contemplates taking her son and mother back to Montana. There’s nothing keeping them in Grimstead, especially since the economy has bottomed out after a sharp decline in oil and natural gas prices.

On her way to pick up the last of her personal affects, Cassie runs into the grandmother of Kyle Westergaard, a teenager who was caught up in gang violence in the previous book. Kyle’s grandmother, Lotte, begs Cassie to find her grandson and his African-American friend, Raheem. Lotte doesn’t want Cassie to bring Kyle home; she just wants assurance that he and Raheem are safely on their self-planned journey down the Missouri River. (The boys, clearly, aren’t aware of how many dams are on the Missouri.)

When Cassie realizes that Kyle, Raheem, and another Grimstead resident disappeared on the same September day, she begins to suspect the worst – and blame herself further because her botched capture distracted resources from these events. Cassie agrees to work as private investigator and attempt to locate the boys, a role that takes her back to Paradise Valley – the childhood home of the Lizard King.

Like the previous three novels in this series, the events of this novel move quickly, and I found it impossible to put the novel down. Memorable characters from the first book return in this one, and their disapproving attitudes towards the town where my family lives in Montana offered brief moments of levity that were much appreciated.

At multiple points in the story, the Lizard King confesses that he fears he’s looking his touch. I’d have to agree with that assessment. While I appreciated not being subjected to a complete onslaught of murders or spending too much time in his head, the novel didn’t carry the undercurrent of creepiness that I’ve come to associate with this character.

Perhaps I was less afraid of him because I knew this was the final book in The Highway Quartet — the series name was announced for this first time with this book – and, thus, knew something would happen to the Lizard King. But I found the conclusion unfulfilling; more like a slowly deflating balloon than one popped with a bang.

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