Books

C.J. Box thinks outside the box with serial-killer thriller

Author C.J. Box
Author C.J. Box

Sometimes a guy simply needs a change of scenery.

That was the case for C.J. Box, the Edgar Award-winning novelist best known for thrillers that feature wily Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett.

Box loves writing that series, which began with “Open Season” in 2001 and has built a loyal fan base over the years. Book No. 18 in the series, “The Disappeared,” will come out in March 2018.

“But there are some things I want to write that aren’t right for a Joe Pickett novel,” Box says.

His latest, “Paradise Valley,” is that kind of book. It takes place in North Dakota and Montana and it involves the hunt for a cunning highway serial killer. “Wrong state, wrong subject matter,” Box says.

But it’s the right book for any reader daring enough to spend a few unnerving evenings exploring the mind of a twisted predator.

We chatted with Box, whose book tour brings him to the Half Price Books on Northwest Highway in Dallas on Aug. 2, about “Paradise Valley.”

The book, being promoted as a standalone, is actually the fourth in a series. Is it necessary for people to have read the earlier books before picking up this one?

I didn’t set out to write a sort of loosely connected series when I wrote “Back of Beyond” (in 2012). But there have been four books now with what is more or less the same cast of characters.

One of them is Cassie Dewell, my protagonist in “Paradise Valley.” She was introduced in the second book, “The Highway” (2013), and she was the main character two years ago in “Badlands.”

The villain, who’s known as the Lizard King, was introduced in “The Highway” as well. With this book, I felt there needed to be a conclusion to the tension and pursuit between Cassie and the Lizard King.

But no, I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the other books to be able to follow and enjoy this one.

“The Lizard King” is a piece of work. In this book, he abducts people, fits them with dog collars rigged with remote-controlled explosives and starts to think of them as his new family.

The Pickett books have had some strange customers in them over the years, but nothing on this scale.

A lot of readers have had a visceral reaction to the Lizard King and were very disturbed by him. I know this because, at every book signing I do, somebody will ask me about him.

Hopefully this book will give those readers some satisfaction.

You quote Jim Morrison, aka the Lizard King, and the Doors song “Riders on the Storm” (“There’s a killer on the road; his brain is squirming like a toad …”). Was any of that in your mind when you created the character?

He’s called the Lizard King because he preys on truck-stop prostitutes and because truck drivers often refer to these women as lot lizards. That’s where it came from.

But I will admit the song did get stuck in my head from time to time.

When you write about places and things in your books — like the rugged terrain at Yellowstone (where this book ends), or the Bakken Oil Boom in North Dakota (a kind of modern-day Wild West), or what it’s like to live as a long-haul trucker — how in-depth does your research get?

When I’m setting a book someplace that I’m not that familiar with, I make a point of personally going there and experiencing what’s in the books.

For example, several years ago, I wrote a book called “Cold Wind,” in which a body was left hanging from one of the blades of a giant wind turbine. I wanted to see what it was like to climb up there, just like the character in the book, so I did.

In this case, a few years ago, I rode cross country with a married couple who were truckers. I’m no expert, but I got a feel for what it’s like to live as a long-haul trucker. At night, I would stay in a hotel by the truck stop, but they would stay in the truck. They literally lived in the truck. It’s a unique lifestyle.

Paradise Valley

  • By C.J. Box
  • Minotaur Books, $27.99

Meet the author

C.J. Box will be at the Half Price Books Flagship store, 5803 E. Northwest Highway in Dallas, at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 to discuss “Paradise Valley” and to sign copies.

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