Review: The Bitterroots By C.J. Box
Venture to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana in The Bitterroots from New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author C. J. Box. To uncover the truth in an assault case, former sheriff’s investigator Cassie Dewell must fight against a family whose roots are tangled and deadly…
C.J. Box has a knack for delivering crime narratives set in gorgeous places that are packed with action and drama and are populated by characters that feel real. The Bitterroots is no different. In fact, between the female lead, the outstanding sense of place the novel conveys, and the family of monsters Box placed at the core of his narrative, The Bitterroots is one of his best books in a while, and that’s saying a lot.
Cassie Dewell used to work as a sheriff’s investigator, but now she’s making a living as a private investigator. Her plate is full and the cases she’s working are going relatively well. That changes when one of her clients, a defense lawyer, calls her and asks her to look into the case of a man accused of assaulting his niece. Cassie doesn’t want to take on the assignment, but she does. The case takes her to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana, where the Kleinsassser family runs the entire town from their ranch. They are a dark, corrupt bunch prone to violence and misogyny but obsessed with loyalty to the family and maintaining the status quo. For them, the man accused of assaulting the young girl is a traitor because he left the ranch and made his fortune elsewhere. As Cassie explores the family’s history and the young woman’s story, cracks begin to appear. She soon learns the Kleinsassers’ power goes above and beyond anything she could have imagined, and getting to the bottom of the case will put her life in danger in ways she can’t fully understand.
Box does a few things very well here. The first is history. While we usually think of science fiction and fantasy as the genres where worldbuilding and invented histories reign supreme, Box has created something as full and immersive as anything those genres have to offer with the Kleinsasser family. Their roots are old and deep in Lochsa County, and the ranch is a place where a lot has gone down. As Cassie learns about them, the reader is exposed to generations of darkness.
The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.
Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.
An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.
C.J. Box Biography
C. J. Box is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 27 novels including the Joe Pickett series. He won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009) as well as the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, two Barry Awards, and the 2010 Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Award for fiction. He was recently awarded the 2016 Western Heritage Award for Literature by the National Cowboy Museum as well as the Spur Award for Best Contemporary Novel by the Western Writers of America in 2017. Over seven million copies of his books have been sold in the U.S. and abroad and they've been translated into 27 languages. Two television series based on his novels are currently in development.
Wolf Pack, the 19th Joe Pickett novel, was published March of 2019 and debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list and remained on the list for five consecutive weeks.
Box is a Wyoming native and has worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, a small town newspaper reporter and editor, and he owned an international tourism marketing firm with his wife Laurie. In 2008, Box was awarded the "BIG WYO" Award from the state tourism industry. An avid outdoorsman, Box has hunted, fished, hiked, ridden, and skied throughout Wyoming and the Mountain West. He served on the Board of Directors for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo and currently serves on the Wyoming Office of Tourism Board. They have three daughters and one (so far) grandchild. He and his wife Laurie live on their small ranch in Wyoming.
The Joe Pickett Novels: Open Season (2001), Savage Run (2002), Winterkill (2003), Trophy Hunt (2004), Out of Range (2005), In Plain Sight (2006), Free Fire (2007), Blood Trail (2008), Below Zero (2009), Nowhere to Run (2010), Cold Wind (2011), Force of Nature (2012), Breaking Point (2013), Stone Cold (2014), Endangered (2015), Off The Grid (2016), Vicious Circle (2017), The Disappeared (2018), Wolf Pack (2019), Long Range (2020).
The Stand Alone Novels: Blue Heaven (2008), Three Weeks to Say Goodbye (2009), Back of Beyond (2011), The Highway (2013), Badlands (2015), Paradise Valley (2017), The Bitterroots (2019).
Short Stories: Shots Fired: Stories From Joe Pickett Country (2014).
#Box’s latest entry into the Cassie Dewell series is very good. I still have not got as into any of them as I have the Joe Pickett series, but that is kind of comparing apples to oranges. While they are both mystery series that take place in the Rockies, the characters and the scenarios feel so different. I find the Dewell series to be much darker and more brutal – which may be saying a lot and Pickett has his share of dark and brutal, too!
I found the mystery and the twists and turns in this book to be unique and creative. That is a great thing to find in a genre where most scenarios have been used already. While it is still likely that a storyline is going to have shades of a previously used scenario, as long is you don’t feel like you are dealing with something that is blatantly rehashed, that is a success. Box seems to always approach his stories with a fresh eye and adds in twists you never see coming.
For this one, I did not go the full five stars because it was good, but I cannot avoid comparing those apples to oranges in my head. With how strong several of the recent Pickett titles have been, I must put Dewell in second place . . . at least for now. Maybe her next adventure will move her to the top? That is a race I am greatly enjoying being a part of!
#I’ve found a new author to add to my favorites list. The Bitterroots by C. J. Box is book four in his Cassie Dewell series. I’m new to this author, but I love this book and will read others from him.
Cassie Dewell is a Montana private investigator and former sheriff’s deputy. She has been contracted by the Mitchell-Estrella Law Firm to investigate their latest client, Blake Kleinsasser, who’s been accused of molesting and sexually assaulting the fifteen-year-old daughter of his younger brother. Cassie is wary of this assignment despite the fact that Rachel Mitchell had assured her that she’d never ask her to do work that would “offend her sensibilities.”
C. J. Box makes great use of the Montana scenery. The mountains and wildfires are characters unto themselves. The human characters are well-developed and relatable, if not all likable. There are great plot twists. Some will have you catching flies with your open mouth. Totally unexpected! I literally couldn’t put it down. The Bitterroots is a definite 5 out of 5 and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thriller.
My thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. However, the opinions expressed in this review are 100% mine and mine alone.
The Bitterroots, C.J. Box