“The Bitterroots” by C. J. Box is the fourth book in the Cassie Dewell series. Each book can be read individually, and all feature Cassie Dewell, whose previous career in law enforcement was intense and tumultuous as she pursued and apprehended a serial rapist and murderer who operated as a long-haul trucker. She is still haunted by his menacing presence every time an eighteen-wheeler thunders by her on the highway. A quick but thorough history of the events between the last book and this one details just how Dewell reached her status as a licensed private investigator in Bozeman, Montana.
Dewell finds herself with a case far removed from her usual skip-trace clients when a friend asks her to investigate the arrest of Blake Kleinsasser, the oldest son in a prominent family who owns a huge ranch near Bitterroot Range. Kleinsasser, who left the family business to run a successful hedge fund, is charged with scandalously inappropriate behavior with a minor relative. Dewell’s job is not to determine his guilt or innocence, but to assure that every step taken by the prosecutor is legal, one hundred percent by the book.
Box pulls readers into the distasteful investigation as Dewell interviews participants and learns more than she ever wanted to know about the Kleinsasser Family Trust. The Kleinsassers remind her more of a cult than a family. Dewell discovers that what really binds the family together is envy, resentment, and hate.
The geography of Montana plays an important part in the story with mountains, valleys, rivers, and plains, pushed together as if jammed against a wall. It is the “Summer of Fire” in Montana, with long fire lines that extend across the mountains and layers of smoke that give the impression of truncated buttes not mountains.
“The fire seemed like a living thing, a snake, a nocturnal beast more alive at night than during the day. It burned bright enough that it stained the bellies of low-hanging clouds with pink hues.”
Readers can use Google Earth to absorb the intensity of the massive mountains and the intervening valleys; follow the road as Dewell choses to leave Interstate Highway 90 after Butte and cuts south and west on two-lane state roads, or take a casual look around Deer lodge prison farm and Lolo Hot Springs.
Box keeps Dwell’s sense of justice and respect for the law remained intact, but pushes her to the limit as she uncovers inconsistencies in the statement of a girl who was likely traumatized and contends with a family that is toxic, twisted, and paranoid. Box pushes readers to the limit as a massive eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer, a black Peterbilt tractor, with a boxy cab and long nose like the lizard king’s, idles on a suburban street and the driver watches a neighborhood school with his eyes.
“The Bitterroots” starts as a routine investigation for Dewell and gains momentum until it the crushing, traumatic ending. When the Montana smoke clears, there is surprise for everyone. I received a review copy of “The Bitterroots” from C. J. Box, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books. Box has written a detailed, intense story that moves quickly and authoritatively. The geography is stunning, the characters complex, and the plot compelling. It is a book for new readers and die-hard Box fans alike.