By Leslie Doran
Special to The Denver Post
Special to The Denver Post
July 26, 20115
Wyoming author C.J. Box takes readers for a frigid walk on the wild side in his newest novel, Badlands. The booming oil town of Grimstad, N.D., provides the backdrop for the action in this story of a town and populace stretched to the breaking point thanks to the recent discovery of the second largest oil deposit in the United States.
Box is a master of using issues between the old and the new west as themes in his novels. In Badlands, Box takes a small town just east of the border of Montana and chillingly depicts how the current oil boom parallels the gold rush days of the 1800s. The burgeoning population has brought thousands of strangers, violence, drugs, housing shortages, "working girls," motorcycle gangs and even drug cartels into the former mostly agricultural community, where everybody knew each other.
Cassie Dewell, a single mother to 6-year-old Ben, arrives in town as the new lead investigator for the sheriff's department. Cassie was introduced in Box's book from 2013, "The Highway," and brings her keen observation skills and detecting abilities to help Sheriff Jon Kirkbride return order to his beloved but troubled community. Even as Cassie is committed to learning her way around this new, frigid landscape, she remains obsessed with catching the serial killer who slipped away from the law in "The Highway." In Grimstad, Cassie finds only one other female who works in the sheriff's department. This reflects the new state of the local population, where men outnumber women 20 to one.
Box introduces Kyle Westergaard, a 12-year-old boy with fetal alcohol syndrome. The story is told through Cassie and Kyle's different viewpoints. How Kyle is seen by the outside world, with his unusual facial features and limited ability to speak, is different from what readers are allowed to share by seeing inside his head. This perspective on Kyle's unusual and unpredictable thinking add to the novel's suspense.
Kyle's life is made even more difficult since his mother and her boyfriend don't provide him with a stable home life or with many necessities, so he takes a paper route. One morning while delivering the paper, Kyle observes a puzzling accident. Afterward, he discovers a bag and takes it home, thereby setting into motion a series of deadly events as rival elements conduct a frantic search for the bag and its contents.
Meanwhile Cassie and the sheriff pursue leads to solve a horrific crime. The investigation and the actions of some of the other deputies only add to the mystery. The body count rises and Cassie and Sheriff Kirkbride must race against the clock to find and protect a witness.
Box has aptly portrayed North Dakota's stark landscape and sub-zero weather, making it a character in the action.
The characters in "Badlands" are finely drawn and display interesting layers to their personalities. Even the bad guys doing ruthless and horrible things are made fascinating, and there are several characters that beg to be brought back for the next adventure.
FICTION: CRIME THRILLER
by C.J. Box (Minotaur Books)