The Bitterroots, by C.J. Box
St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2019
Ever been unsure of an author or a title but decided to dive in anyway, and discover a pleasant surprise in the process?
That’s how I felt after reading C.J. Box’s new crime thriller, The Bitterroots. True confession: I nabbed it off the library’s New shelf cuz of the cover. I mean, hey! Rugged mountains. Jet-puffed clouds. Fiery Montana meadows. And a tall, lanky cowboy.
What’s not to love?
Anyway, C.J. Box is a master storyteller. And this well-crafted tale of intrigue and mystery races from chapter to riveting chapter like Secretariat around the final turn at the Belmont Stakes.
Basic Plot & Characters
Blake Kleinsasser is the oldest son of a “very prominent ranch family that owned a huge cattle and hay operation in the shadows of the Bitterroot Range up in North Lochsa County,” Montana. He’s also the black sheep of the family. Blake left the ranch years ago under a black cloud. When Kleinsasser suddenly returns under mysterious circumstances, he’s accused of molesting and sexually assaulting his fifteen year-old niece.
The Ties That Bind Can Burn You
Saying the powerful Kleinsasser clan of Montana’s Iron Cross Ranch is “dysfunctional” is an understatement. They want to see Blake Kleinsasser, the oldest son and black sheep of the family, put away forever for assaulting his own niece. And they’ll stop at nothing to see it through.
These folks give rattlesnakes a bad name.
I couldn’t help it. Box had me from Chapter 1. There we meet no-nonsense private investigator Cassie Dewell. A former sheriff’s investigator, Dewell is tasked with reviewing the original case files and other matters surrounding Blake Kleinsasser.
Cassie’s certain he’s guilty as sin. The fact that Blake is a Grade AAA jerk doesn’t help. But she’s being paid by his “bull dog” defense lawyer, Rachel Mitchell, to do a thorough and impartial investigation.
That turns out to be a whole lot harder than Cassie thought. And a lot more dangerous, too.
Undaunted, Cassie travels to the scene of the crime while half of Montana is going up in smoke, the result of multiple forest fires.
Turns out the Iron Cross Ranch isn’t the only thing the Kleinsassers “own.” And Montana flora and fauna aren’t the only things threatened by fire.
Higher and Higher
Cassie finds this out fast as she tries to uncover the twisted truth of What Really Happened? And more importantly – Why? The stakes get higher and higher at every turn, for both Cassie and her teenaged son, Ben.
Intriguing, captivating, and briskly paced, The Bitterroots is also filled with splendiferous descriptions of the countryside, geography, and small towns of western Montana. You can almost see the red glow of wildfires as they march down a valley. Smell the smoke and feel the heat. Taste the cold brews from one of the bars festooning the roadways. Hear the roar of a black Peterbilt with smoked windows and no chrome as it thunders through a…
Wait a minute. I’m getting’ ahead of myself. For the rest of that, you’ll have to Read. The. Book.
Note (throwin’ this in for free): Wildfires are an omnipresent thread throughout the story. Fire crackles throughout the pages without overwhelming the plot. It’s very effective in ratcheting up the suspense and sense of danger. Ditto highlighting some of the searing characters, like Blake’s siblings.
One other thing here. I chucked the last half dozen “best-seller” books onto my DNF pile. Why? Cuz after a few chapters of crap like There, There, for example, it felt like I was hip-deep in a garbage dump.
I cannot, will not abide any author who stoops to gratuitous profanity to sell their stuff. (For more on that, click here.)
Although some mouths in The Bitterroots could benefit from a bar of soap, the author doesn’t hit you over the head with it like a 20-ton dump truck every time you finish a sentence. For that, C.J. Box gets bonus points. It was like a breath of fresh air after trudging through Chernobyl.
Now that we’ve got that straightened out, “The Bitterroots” has a clever double meaning. In this novel, “Bitterroots” are far more than a mountain range in western Montana.
Yes, friends. Sometimes a dive into uncharted waters is worth the effort. Especially if that dive is into The Bitterroots.
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Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by an author or book you selected on a whim?