Now without her former partner, Montana police investigator Cody Hoyt - star of two previous books (The Highway and Back of Beyond - detective Cassie Dewell ventures to North Carolina to help put away a man thought to be serial killer Ronald Pergram (a.k.a. Lizard King). Thanks in part to her efforts, he's finally behind bars. So, she heads back to The Treasure State and almost immediately leaves for a new position as chief investigator in Grimstad, North Dakota - a backwoods town that's growing by leaps and bounds as a result of a booming oil industry.
Almost before she attends her first department meeting, a 12-year-old developmentally challenged boy named Kyle witnesses a car accident in which the driver was killed. Then he sees a "package" that apparently was thrown from the car, picks it up and discovers a load of cash and packets of white powder - and a possible turn of good fortune that will allow him to provide a better life for himself and his mother.
Meanwhile, Cassie learns she was brought in to replace a chief investigator who was demoted by Sheriff Kirkbride, the kindly but well-seasoned man who hired her (aha - can we smell the resentment brewing)? In addition to her regular duties, her boss wants her to keep her ear to the ground for possible irregularities within the department. All that gets put on the back burner, though, when mutilated bodies turn up that may be related to rival drug gangs - and more specifically, to that mysterious package Kyle found. As the investigation gathers momentum, Cassie gets a new partner, Ian Davis; he's a former undercover cop who infiltrated the burgeoning drug underworld but had to be pulled from the field when his identity was jeopardized.
There's plenty of action in this one - some of it on the gruesome side - and much of it takes place when the temperatures drop to double-digits below zero (I like winter temperatures better than summer, but that's way too cold even for me). There aren't a lot of surprises as to who the bad guys are, but how, why and who's gonna get bumped off next kept me interested and unhappy when I had to put the book down (but close to 100 fewer pages than is usual for this author meant I didn't need to do that very often). By the end, most of the loose ends are tidied up, although a few stragglers remain that are sure to be continued in the next installment.
Also noticeable is what may be yet another example of the product placement trend I've seen in recent books by other authors; the brand name of a well-known outdoor clothing manufacturer was mentioned three times within the first half of the book. To top things off, I got a wee chuckle over two of the central characters named Willie and Winkie - methinks somebody's got a sense of humor.
Badlands by C.J. Box (Minotaur Books, July 2015); 288 pp.