Review: A Montana private detective faces two mysteries

“Treasure State” by C.J. Box (Minotaur)

Former police officer turned Montana private detective Cassie Dewell has two bizarre mysteries on her hands.

First off, a wealthy matron who’d been bilked by a conman needs her help — not to find the conman but locate the private eye she originally hired to solve the case. The last time the woman heard from him, he was hot on the scammer’s trail, but now he seems to have disappeared. Tracing the private eye’s steps, Dewell soon learns the conman has victimized at least a half-dozen women.

Next up, hundreds of people are searching for a chest full of gems and gold that has been hidden somewhere in the mountain west. Clues to its location are contained in a poem posted in a local bar. The man behind the game anonymously contacts Dewell and offers her $25,000 if she can discover his identity. His name would all but give away the treasure’s location, he says, and he doesn’t want the game to end that way. He wants to make sure he has covered his tracks.

The treasure hunt is based on the real case of Forrest Fenn, a retired art dealer who announced in 2010 that he had hidden about $2 million in gems and gold somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The real treasure was found in Wyoming a decade later. Dewell’s creator, C.J. Box, isn’t the only one to make use of this plot element. It was featured in the final season of “Longmire,” a popular A&E television series based on crime novels by Craig Johnson.

As readers of Box’s first five Dewell novels already know, she’s up to the task of bringing both cases to a satisfactory conclusion. However, the author’s customary fast pacing and suspenseful plot twists are largely absent this time. The conman and his violent partner are unmasked early, leaving readers with no doubt that Dewell will bring them to justice. The violence they commit in an effort to conceal their crimes can be seen coming from a mile away. And until the last few chapters, the plot unfolds at a ponderous pace.

The author does a fine job of developing his characters, especially the conman whose charm and sex appeal are so irresistible that even Cassie fights the urge to be drawn to him.

Box does save two startling twists for the end, however: the surprising motive behind the conman’s swindles, and the clever way that Cassie locates the man behind the treasure hunt.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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