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The Bitterroots by CJ Box

Official Thrillerfix Review

11 July 2019

Release Date: August 13, 2019  |  Review by Gavin Reese

"Former sheriff’s investigator Cassie Dewell is trying to start her life over in private practice. She’s her own boss and answers to no one, and that’s just the way she likes it after the past few tumultuous years. All that certainty changes when an old friend calls in a favor: she wants Cassie to help exonerate a man accused of assaulting a young woman from an influential family."

After releasing his 19th Joe Pickett novel in March, CJ Box’s upcoming release brings former cop and detective Cassie Dewell back for her fourth novel. After leaving law enforcement, she’s opened a private investigations firm in southern Montana, which forces her to confront her own dislike of private investigators and their relationships with criminal defendants and the police. The plot quickly forces Cassie into the employ of a local defense attorney hired to represent an unlikeable client accused of a despicable crime. Driven by unwelcome obligation, Cassie heads alone into an isolated rural county ravaged by forest fire and controlled by the defendant’s dysfunctional and desperate family. What she hopes will be a short stay to confirm the veracity of the collected evidence becomes a life-threatening adventure to save herself, along with the accused. 

CJ has composed a fantastic read that unequivocally demonstrates his expertise, both at his craft and capturing the unique characters and aspects of life in the rural Rocky Mountain West. The reader is easily immersed in his scenes, locations, and characters, all of whom seem to have secrets they’re struggling to keep hidden from everyone around them. CJ’s familiarity with police investigations, crime scene processing, and modern forensics comes through, as well, and plays a critical role in the story and Cassie’s efforts to dispel or confirm the allegations against the defendant. Having spent a significant amount of time in rural western Montana, CJ’s depiction of its locations and his fictional Lochsa County rang true and accurate to my own experiences there. 

Cassie Dewell is a likable, relatable character with her own weaknesses and failings, and her difficult personal life has its own impact in this story. CJ gives the reader enough background that Cassie has credibility to face the problems placed before her, and he does so without focusing so heavily on the past that readers lose focus of the current stakes and investigation. Although this is the fourth installment of CJ’s Cassie Dewell series, it was my first introduction to his writing and reads effectively as a standalone novel. The story contained just enough reference to Cassie’s past adventures to encourage me to go back and read them for myself, rather than demanding intimate knowledge of her prior successes and suffering. 

During a recent interview with CJ, he expressed difficulty in penning his novels into a single genre and described them as “Contemporary Westerns.” This book contains elements that ensure crime, mystery, western, and thriller readers can all enjoy it.

This is an exceptional, gripping story you’ll want to read in one sitting.

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