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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 09, 2017 1:00 am

Serial killer tale is also fascinating travelogue

Reviewed By OLINE H. COGDILL | Associated Press

“Paradise Valley” reaches the same level of frightening realism that made C.J. Box's “The Highway” so terrifying. A sequel to that novel, “Paradise Valley,” makes an excellent conclusion to Box's gripping The Highway Quartet novels that have evolved into a hunt for a serial killer who works as a long-haul trucker.

The realistic fright factor soars because Box uses the FBI's Highway Serial Killer Task Force as a base for “Paradise Valley” and “The Highway.”

In “Paradise Valley,” Cassie Dewell, chief investigator in the Bakken County, North Dakota, sheriff's department, is obsessed with finding killer Ronald Pergram, an independent trucker who preys on truck stop prostitutes. When a sting operation to entrap Pergram goes horribly wrong, Cassie is forced to resign. But Cassie holds firm to her mission of arresting Pergram, who is nicknamed The Lizard King.

The disappearance of three people where Pergram has been seen leads Cassie to believe that Pergram has kidnapped them. One of those missing is Kyle Westergaard, a troubled child for whom Cassie feels responsible. Working on her own, Cassie follows her instincts to track down Pergram.

Box keeps “Paradise Valley” taut, with twists that are as suspenseful as they are believable. Terrifying scenes at a truck stop, at a remote cabin and on a hilltop are not easily forgotten. The intuitive Cassie continues to display her acumen, and we hope Box will find new stories for her and for Kyle, who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. Although Box never allows sympathy nor empathy for Pergram, Box does show a glimmer of humanity that remains in this killer.

Box, best known for his long-running series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, has become one of the best purveyors of stories about the new American West. He vividly recounts how this part of North Dakota has gone from a boomtown to a near bust with unfinished subdivisions littering the landscape. As “Paradise Valley” moves to Montana, Box shows that the best travel writing delves into a region's environs.

Box, winner of the Edgar Award, again proves his superior storytelling skills in “Paradise Valley.”