Once upon a time I lived on Florida’s Space Coast and used to drive State Road 3 from the edge of Kennedy Space Center to Merritt Island, where I worked. This was a year or so before 9-11; post attack they closed it to people driving through.
It’s a country-ish four-lane road with some businesses and homes, but empty stretches, too. Lots of orange groves around at the time, and in the spring the sweet scent of orange blossom literally filled the air. Loved that. One time I saw the biggest gator ever on the KSC side of the road, lumbering away from traffic. I remember thinking ‘it’s as big as a VW Bug.” Truly, it was WIDE.
One afternoon on the way home a man in a pickup truck started following me. And pulling up alongside, pacing me. I’d slow and he’d slow. I’d speed up and he’d do the same. No cell phone. Just open road and no other vehicles. Not knowing what he wanted was the worst part. The what-ifs. He eventually drove off and it was probably just a game to him. Probably.
Which brings us to C.J. Box’s 2013 mystery The Highway. ABC made it into a series (Big Sky) and when I saw the preview I googled and found out it was based on this book. I haven’t watched any of the series but will probably give it a try at some point. I know it won’t be as good as the book but it looks pretty entertaining.
The Highway is a mystery told from the perspectives of three groups of people: Danielle and Gracie, two teenage sisters traveling alone; Cody and Cassie, partners and Lewis and Clark County investigators; and the Lizard King, a long-haul trucker/serial killer, and his degenerate partners in crime. Together they tell a gripping tale, not too gory or gratuitous, but real and unflinching.
This was the first book I’ve read by this author and it’s part of a series. Box does a good job of catching the reader up just enough to explain what you need to know. There were references to Cody, the veteran lawman, and his hard-drinking past as well as his willingness to skirt the law as he performed his police work. There’s also something about an incident involving Cody’s son and his girlfriend and her sister – Danielle and Gracie. Yellowstone National Park is the setting for that incident as well as parts of The Highway and Box’s descriptions really take you there: the sound of the rushing river, the towering walls of a canyon, the dazzling night sky. The beauty and the danger and the remoteness all become a backdrop to terror and evil.
The book plays on the elemental fears that emerge when driving alone at night on an empty road. What if you break down or if you’re followed? What if, what if…
Sadly, for Danielle and Gracie, worst fears are realized when they do break down while traveling through Yellowstone at night. They’re trying to skirt a detour and everything’s fine until the car dies. And then the trucker they had flipped off earlier comes along and just like that the mystery of the missing girls begins because he’s not just any trucker, he’s the Lizard King.
It’s a good ride, a page-turner with a few surprises. The character I liked best and want more of is Cassie: new to the force, single mom, smart and a quick study. I need to do my research – this book is from 2013 so maybe there is a Cassie book waiting for me.
Box’s characters are all richly described and clearly defined. His writing is simple, direct and informative and he knows how to set a scene and create a mood. If you read The Highway you’ll learn a thing or two about long-haul truckers, the interstate shipping system and you’ll never look at the back row of semis at a rest stop the same way again. Maybe it’s better to not look at all.