The Highway by C.J. Box is a dark thriller featuring Cody Hoyt, an alcoholic former police investigator who is pulled into hunting a serial killer on Montana's remote highways (available July 30, 2013).
I’m a big fan of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series and was very excited to read one of his standalone novels. I would still consider it a standalone, although a few of the characters, including teen sisters Danielle and Gracie, that appear in this book also appeared in Back of Beyond, published just a couple of years ago. Specifically, Cody Hoyt, a police investigator in Montana. Since Box creates such memorable characters, I’m not surprised that Cody made another appearance.
In The Highway, Cody is struggling with his recent sobriety and has been kicked off the force for planting evidence, a crime of which he is clearly guilty. When he admits to planting the evidence, it sounds like a no brainer to the reader that Cody is a dirty cop. However, once Box outlines Cody’s reasoning and tells the story from his point of view, you may not be entirely sure that your original conclusions are correct. The author reminds you that things are sometimes gray rather than black and white.
“Look,” Cody said, “B. G. did it. The two of them are bigtime growers fighting for market share. I know these people because I grew up with them. I went to school with B. G., and he’s been a dirtbag in training from the minute he was born. B. G. went to Tokely’s house on some pretext and shot Tokely with Tokely’s gun, then made it look like a suicide. He murdered a man. We’re supposed to be against that. And I don’t give a shit about Roger Tokely, either. He was a reprobate just like B. G. But if we leave B. G. out on the street, look what we’ve done. We’ve allowed him to continue to beat the shit out of his wife and kids for years and they’ll never turn against him because he’s got them under his thumb. Worst of all we’ve showed him he can beat us. So the next time he gets high, maybe it’s one of those innocents out there who gets it. Maybe it’s your mom, or your kid, or my son. B. G.’s a typical douche bag. He’s been getting away with crap for years. He’s human shit and I just want to flush him away.”
…“All I was doing in that cabin,” Cody said, “was spreading some bread crumbs around that would lead to other evidence. Now the techs are motivated, they’ll find more and more to place B. G. in that house. By the time they’ve got enough to arrest B. G. we might not even need to use the trash I put in his garbage can. The stuff I did wasn’t enough to railroad B. G.—but it was enough to get everyone looking in his direction. That’s all I wanted, was to put the spotlight on him. And that’s sometimes how you have to work it so the right scumbags go to prison.”
After being fired from the force, Cody gets a phone call from his son, Justin. Two young girls, the older sister is his girlfriend, who were supposed to arrive for a visit not only never arrived, but are not answering any phone calls or texts. Cody's son is so upset that Cody has no choice but to get involved. As he heads into the Rocky Mountains to a remote part of Montana to investigate, things are a bit sticky since he’s no longer a police officer, though he's still in contact with his former rookie partner Cassie Dewell.
Box’s ability to create vivid characters is one of the things that makes reading his books so enjoyable. He does an amazing job of not only creating the characters who are on the side of good, but the evil ones, too. His evil characters are even that much more stunning for their depiction and the author’s ability to produce chills down the reader’s spine.
He called himself the Lizard King. The prostitutes known as lot lizards feared him. More precisely, they feared his legend, the idea of him. None of them who’d ever seen his face up close lived to describe it…
He was on the road so much his outlook on it had changed completely over the years. It no longer seemed like he was moving, for one thing. Now he felt as if he were stationary while the road rolled under him and the scenery flowed by. The world came to him.
Like the captain of a large ocean vessel, a large swath of the landscape was off-limits to him, as he was confined by the shipping lanes that were interstate highways. When he parked his truck at a rest area or truck stop for the night he couldn’t venture into town because he had no way to get there unless he walked. It was like a captain who had to anchor his boat and take a dinghy to shore.
Oh, how he resented the smug people in those towns. They thought their food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and electronics simply appeared at stores or on their front doorsteps. They didn’t stop to think that every item they ate or wore or used was likely transported across the nation in the trailer of his truck or those like him, or that the hardworking blue-collar rednecks they avoided in real life and despised on the road were the conduits of their comfort and the pipeline of their wealth.
I originally thought of this book as a race against time, but have since amended my description to a fast moving, edge of your seat page-turner. I really couldn't put it down. Box tells his story as it needs to be told, and is not afraid to let the action go where it may and let the bodies fall. Things can’t always be neat and tidy and summed up in the drawing room by a fire. But when you think about it, when are things really that neat and tidy in real life?