New Maine Times Book Review: The Highway

Posted Wednesday, September 11, 2013 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: The Highway
THE HIGHWAY
By C.J. Box.
Minotaur, 2013.
383 pages, $25.99.
ISBN 978-0-312-58320-0.
 
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
 
    Cross-country road trips will never again have the same exciting open road appeal after folks read THE HIGHWAY by best-selling and Edgar Award-winning mystery writer C.J. Box.  In fact, travel by plane or train would be a much better option.
 
    Box is well known for his thirteen volume mystery series featuring redoubtable Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, but he also writes marvelous stand-alone novels like this one.  All of Box’s mysteries take place in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and the Dakotas, where there seem to be a lot of creepy people with bad intentions.
 
    This clever, frightening mystery plays on an all-too-real theme, that serial killers prey on unsuspecting motorists driving cross-country on the nation’s highways, especially in sparsely populated states with long, lonely stretches of roadway.  And Box works this theme with amazing skill, creating a gripping scenario that is convincing and incredibly scary.
 
    Cody Hoyt is a former county sheriff investigator, recently fired by a smarmy, grudge-carrying sheriff for planting evidence in a murder case.  Hoyt is a good detective with a well earned reputation for violence and imaginative crime scene manipulation.  He is also an alcoholic with a messy and tenuous family life.
 
    When two teenage sisters disappear while driving cross-country, Hoyt decides on his own to search for the girls in a mountainous wild part of Montana just north of Yellowstone National Park.  For all his faults, Hoyt is like a bulldog – tenacious and smart.  So, minus his badge, but still well-armed (isn’t everybody in Montana?), he sets out to find the missing girls, but he makes one crucial mistake and now he is missing, too.
 
    His former partner, Detective Cassie Dewell, feeling guilty for her part in Hoyt’s downfall, follows up on Hoyt’s leads, now looking for the girls and Hoyt.  However, she too will be lured into a trap by a long-haul truck driver known only as the Lizard King.
 
    Dewell has learned a lot from her former partner, how to do things right, and how to cut corners when necessary to get the result you want.  Her investigation reveals a number of missing women cases along the nation’s highways, particularly in Montana.  The scant evidence points to a long-haul trucker as a serial killer.  What Dewell doesn’t realize is that the Lizard King isn’t working alone – he has partners, equally cold-blooded and vicious, men nobody would ever suspect.
 
    As Dewell investigates further, she runs into surprising obstacles, senses something is very wrong, and nearly makes a fatal mistake.  Meanwhile, the Lizard King and his brutal pals are raping, torturing, and killing the victims, but there will soon be a fracture in their criminal pact that will jeopardize everything.
 
    This is a graphic, gory, and violent story, certainly not for the squeamish reader.  However, it is a vivid portrayal of a criminal conspiracy that hunts along the nation’s highways for victims.  And it is loaded with exciting cop action, savvy investigation, and chilling suspense.  There are plenty of shocking plot twists that the reader won’t see coming, sort of like that menacing big rig that pulls up behind you on a dark, empty highway late at night.  And pay attention to that “Check Engine” warning light on the dashboard – it just might save your life.
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