When Cassie Dewell, the main character in C.J. Box's latest summer thriller, "Badlands," is offered the job of sheriff in Grimstad, N.D., the Bakken County sheriff hiring her is blunt about the position. "There's something you need to remember," he says, "this place is the Wild West. … You ain't ever seen anything like it." And he ain't lying.

With the region's dramatic increase in crime, six months working law enforcement in this "new energy" North Dakota equals "ten years of experience" anywhere else.

Dewell has recently faced off against a horrific highway serial killer. She's more than ready for whatever this job brings, but what she doesn't expect is a 12-year-old boy whom no one notices but who sees everything, a "slow kid" with fetal alcohol syndrome, caught in the middle of a violent gang war.

Box is known for writing wilderness noir, dark suspenseful stories set in the wilds of Montana and Wyoming, his landscapes as strong and compelling as his characters. In this absorbing new novel, North Dakota's "dark prairie" with its "pipeline fields, heavy equipment yards, tool companies" and its "man camps" is balanced with aplomb against the story of boy and his quest for "respite" from "one trauma after another."

Carole E. Barrowman teaches English at Alverno College in ­Milwaukee.