C.J. Box’s latest thriller, The Bitterroots, follows a family that redefines the word dysfunctional: the Kleinsassers, longtime ranchers and influential denizens of remote Lochsa County, Montana. Private investigator Cassie Dewell, on retainer with a local law office, has been tasked with the defense investigation of family black sheep Blake Kleinsasser, who has been credibly accused of the rape of his 15-year-old niece. It’s pretty much inevitable that this investigation will not end well, as there is quite a bit of enmity among the family members, and no resolution to the case will be satisfying to all the players. The evidence is compelling, with a positive ID from a DNA sample and Blake’s statement that he cannot remember any of the events of the night in question. Yet when Cassie ramps up the investigation, she is stymied at every turn by the Kleinsasser family, to the point of being jailed on trumped-up charges. Clearly someone is invested in derailing the investigation and seeing Blake put away for a very long time, irrespective of his guilt. Box is in top form here, gilding his reputation for finely crafted suspense novels of the New West—a place you wouldn’t necessarily want to live but that is endlessly intriguing to read about.
In Nicole Chung’s memoir about the deaths of her parents, she absorbs hard times with fury and compassion, making the universal experience of grief vividly personal.