Michael Barson: While this is only the second novel to feature your serial killer the Lizard King as the lead villain, it also features characters who appeared in the two previous Cassie Newell thrillers. Did you conceive of this work as a trilogy from the beginning?

CJ Box: Not really. I don’t work that far ahead. When the Lizard King and Cassie Dewell were introduced in THE HIGHWAY (and appeared again in BADLANDS) I wasn’t planning an epic concluding novel. Both of those books (as well as BACK OF BEYOND, the first of what has become known as “The Highway Quartet”) stands alone. I don’t think of the four books as a series as much as four books with a few characters who move from story to story. The four books might resemble an anthology more than a series, in fact. The ghost of Cody Hoyt kind of hovers over them all.

MB: Ronald Pergman, the self-anointed Lizard King, is an extremely dangerous man, one who has murdered numerous women. But at times he appears rather pathetic. Why did you decide to depict him this way?

CJB: I didn’t realize when I wrote THE HIGHWAY how much the Lizard King would stick in the minds of readers. Maybe I should have gotten a clue when a well-known forensic pathologist who has interviewed serial killers told me I got the mind-set of character exactly right. And I don’t think I’ve done an event in the last six years where someone didn’t ask if the Lizard King was still out there. So I thought a lot about his character. What would a man like him turn into late in life? Would a vicious killer get weary? Would he decide to recreate his existence on earth? It isn’t that we’re supposed to feel for him. But maybe in PARADISE VALLEY we get to understand why he’s the monster that he is.

MB: When Cassie first appeared in The Highway, she was a supporting character who was thrust onto center stage. But then she starred in your next two “stand-alone” novels, and now seems poised to become your distaff Joe Pickett for years to come. Was that your plan for her from the get-go?

CJB: Nope. But I found out I liked Cassie and enjoyed writing about her more than I ever planned on. When readers and reviewers really responded to her it was validation. She isn’t perfect, much like Joe Pickett. But I think she comes off as very likable and very real.

MB: Has that positive reader response for Cassie influenced your plans for future Montana thrillers?

CJB: I thought when I finished PARADISE VALLEY that the next stand-alone would be a bonafide stand-alone. Although I haven’t quite made up my mind yet, Cassie is kind of calling to me to come back.

MB: Is there any way there could be a pair of crossover novels that featured Joe Pickett and Cassie working on a case together? One could be published by Putnam, the other by Minotaur. Unifying the two universes would be so very exciting!

CJB: Ha! I don’t know if both publishers would go for that. I’m not sure I would either.