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Book Author: C. J. Box

THE BITTERROOTS by C. J. Box: Book Review

The Bitterroots are a mountain range situated in western Montana and the panhandle of Idaho, part of the Rocky Mountain chain.  In spite of its harsh-sounding name, it’s filled with natural beauty, featuring outstanding hunting, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.  But in C. J. Box’s latest novel, its beauty hides pockets of corruption, greed, and self-enclosed communities with secrets they want to remain hidden.

Cassie Dewell, once a deputy sheriff, is now the founder of Dewell Investigations, LLC.  As the novel opens she receives a phone call from Rachel Mitchell, a partner in a Missoula law firm, and a woman whom Cassie owes a favor.  Rachel wants her to investigate everything about the arrest of Blake Kleinsasser, who has been accused of raping his niece Franny; Cassie’s initial response is “No way.”

The Kleinsasser family is the dictionary definition of dysfunctional.  Blake, the eldest son of Horst and Margaret, is the only one who left the family ranch; in Kleinsasser terms, that’s treason and “the ultimate act of disloyalty.”  Blake has had a successful career in New York City; after a long absence he returns home with the intention of helping his siblings sell the ranch, which he tells them is in their best financial interest.  But his sister and two brothers don’t believe he came for unselfish reasons and say don’t want to sell the ranch at all.

Blake explains to Cassie and Rachel that many of his clan’s problems stem from the Kleinsasser Family Trust, a document drawn up by Blake’s grandfather.  According to that document, everything must be left to the oldest son in each generation, which is Blake in this case.  It is up to that son whether to keep the entire bequest or to share it with other family members.  The only way that heir would not receive the entire bequest, which currently consists of the ranch, is to denounce the family name or by committing “moral turpitude.”

Blake admits to having been drinking heavily for several days before the alleged rape took place.  He remembers picking up his niece from church that evening after she phoned him to do so, but he claims a total blackout about the rest of that night until the deputies came to arrest him the next morning.

The physical evidence against him appears overwhelming–his semen on Fanny’s underwear, his car’s tire tracks at the remote cabin where she told the deputies the attack took place, a whiskey glass at the cabin covered with Blake’s fingerprints–and then there’s Fanny’s testimony of what happened.  But Cassie does owe Rachel a favor, a big favor from a previous case, so despite her near certainty about the client’s guilt she agrees to investigate.

Luchsa County, home to the Kleinsassers, seems to be totally in their grasp.  It soon becomes apparent that the police and the courts are beholden to the family, thwarting Cassie’s efforts to discover the truth of what happened between Blake and his niece.  But she perseveres, and little by little a story different from the original one gets uncovered.

C. J. Box is the author of more than twenty novels, including the best-selling Joe Pickett series.  His mysteries have won the Edgar, Anthony, and Barry awards, among other prizes. 

You can read more about C. J. Box at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



BADLANDS by C. J. Box: Book Review

Nothing could be more ordinary than a twelve-year-old boy delivering newspapers so early in the morning that it’s still dark.  And nothing could be more ordinary than a speeding car going off a curving road in that same darkness.  But there’s nothing ordinary in the sequence of events that follow, bringing terror and death to the small town of Grimstad, Wyoming.

Kyle Westergaard has recently acquired a paper route, and he rides his route every morning, his bike heavy with the Tribune.  On this particular morning he sees the car crash that will change his life.

Two town police cars arrive almost immediately at the scene, but separately.  The officers look in the car and realize that nothing can be done for the man inside it, who is definitely dead.  When the two deputies turn and see Kyle, the older one wants to question him but then, looking at him more closely, says to his fellow deputy, “Look, see his face?  He won’t be any help.”  It’s clear from his features that Kyle suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  The short nose, upward slanted eyes, flattened cheekbones, and small head all indicate that Kyle is a boy with major developmental and intellectual disabilities, one who can’t be expected to help the police at all.

What the police don’t know is that a small bundle is thrown from the speeding car as it crashes and that Kyle picks it up and brings it home.  Home is a run-down cottage that houses Kyle, his mother, and his mother’s latest partner, T-Lock.  When Kyle gets home after his paper route is finished he puts the bundle under the garage workbench, but as luck would have it T-Lock finds it and is waiting for the boy when he returns home after school.  T-Lock is all worked up because the package contains both drugs and money, lots of each.  He extracts a promise from Kyle to tell no one, including his mother, by promising that all the money will be spent for Kyle’s mother’s benefit.  Given the difficulty Kyle has talking so that people can understand him, that’s not a difficult promise for him to keep.

The Grimstad police department has a new investigator, Cassie Dewell.  She recently quit her job in Helena, Montana to take this position, a job with a significant increase in pay and a seemingly much smarter and nicer chief of police than she had worked for previously.  But she’s surprised that Jon Kirkbride already has a specific investigation for her to pursue; he’s afraid that one of his officers is crooked and wants Cassie to help find the truth.

C. J. Box, author of the Joe Pickett mysteries, introduced Cassie in The Highway, the first novel in this new series.  She’s smart, tough, and anxious to make a new start for herself and her young son in Grimstad.  But there’s a lot on her plate, including her ambivalence about spying on her fellow officers.

Badlands is a totally engrossing thriller, with a captivating heroine, a great setting, and a realistic plot.  Another plus is the honesty and compassion that comes through when Box is writing about Kyle, his significant difficulties, and the perceptions that people have about him that are often wrong.  Cassie is the heroine of this book, Kyle its hero.

You can read more about C. J. Box at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.