A Two-Fer: Back of Beyond and The Highway (Audiobooks) by CJ Box, Holter Graham: Thrills and Chills along the Highways & Byways (and wilderness) of Wyoming

Trying something new here—one post about two books. Basically, I got so hooked by the first in this series that I listened to the second before I could write about it. Now I can’t think of them separately, so…

Back of Beyond

Back of Beyond

by C. J. Box, Holter Graham (Narrator)
Series: The Highway Quartet, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 11 hrs., and 3 mins.
Macmillan Audio, 2011
Read: October 16-17, 2019
3.5 Stars

The Highway

The Highway

by C. J. Box, Holter Graham (Narrator)
Series: The Highway Quartet, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., and 49 mins
Macmillan Audio, 2013
Read: October 24-25, 2019
3 Stars

Cody Hoyt is your typical brilliant, but troubled, maverick cop. But he’s gone a little further than most—his alcoholism has cost him a job, his marriage, and son. He’s managed to find a job as a Sheriff’s Investigator in Montana, and has two months of sobriety. He’s called out to the scene of an apparently accidental fire that resulted in a death.

Sadly, the body is Cody’s AA Sponsor. Cody refuses to believe that he got drunk and accidentally caused a fire. With a fellow investigator, he starts putting the pieces together while trying to prevent the Coroner and Sheriff from rushing to declare it an accidental death.

Meanwhile, we meet Gracie Sullivan, a bookish fourteen-year-old and her older, appearance-obsessed sister Danielle. In an attempt to bond with his daughters during the short time he has custody, he drags them along on a Yellowstone wilderness trip.

This seems like an odd combination of storylines to combine—but Box does it. While unclear about why Hank was killed, the investigators decide the killer is on a Yellowstone Wilderness Trip (yup, that’s the one!). To add to the tension, Cody’s son is also on that trip—he’s with the man his mother is planning to marry, also in an attempt to bond. The idea of his son stuck with a killer is too much for Cody. So he sets off to find the tour while his colleague continues to investigate.

I’m not sure why so many adults want to bond with teens for a week in Yellowstone on the back of a horse, but maybe it’s something I should try. Then again, given the body count on this trip…

Bouncing back and forth between Gracie and Cody (and, occasionally, other points of view), we get to see what’s going on with the tour while we feel the tension from Cody’s hunt. No one on the tour is aware there’s any kind of problem, but things start going wrong and people start disappearing. The tour group is an interesting, and pretty believable mix of characters, and when things go wrong for them, it matters. I absolutely loved the contrast between the experienced, yet worried, Cody and the increasingly aware and innocent Gracie (I would’ve been more impressed with this if I hadn’t moved on to Box’s Open Season next where he’d done something very similar years before this).

Despite his many flaws—or probably because of the way that Box combined them and used them—I really liked Cody and was rooting for him. But Gracie? Gracie was fantastic. She’s smart, insightful, clever and determined—and she keeps her head in a dangerous situation.

There’s a lot of good twists (and even the one that you see coming from miles away, you only see part of it—and the motive will catch you off guard). All coming together in a good, solid, satisfying ending.

Then a few years later, in The Highway, we meet Cody again. In the meantime, things have gone really well for him, we can tell. And then things fall apart as we join him—he falls off the wagon, jeopardizing career and family.

Danielle is driving her sister Gracie from their home in Colorado to their father’s for Thanksgiving. Danielle makes a spur-of-the-moment choice to detour to see Cody’s son, Justin. Ever the horrible-teenage-driver, she’s texting him continually through their trip.

Suddenly, the texts stop and hours click by with no contact. Justin enlists his drunken father and a new investigator he’s training to search for them. Cassie Dewall is a driven, single mother, widowed when her husband was killed in Afghanistan. She’s younger and has a lot to learn (and to prove), but has the making of a good detective.

The girls have been kidnapped by, well, it’s in the official blurb so I can say this—a serial killer. Who does a lot more than kill his exclusively female victims. I think that says enough.

The perspectives jump between Cody, Cassie, Gracie and the killer keeping the tension high throughout the hunt. I almost stopped at several points, however. The looming threat to Danielle and Gracie was a lot to take, and hearing about what the other victims had gone through and endured was horrible. It was just a little too real and not at all entertaining for me.

I stuck with it, though. I wanted to see just how the hunt resolved and assumed (rightly or wrongly) that some sort of justice would be meted out. Also, I had to know what would happen to the girls. In the end, I’m glad I did, but it almost wasn’t worth it. A little more evil and it wouldn’t have been.

That said. I’ll be back for number three. Soon.

2019 Library Love Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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