"The Highway" by C.J. Box; Minotaur (400 pages, $25.99)

"The Highway" by C.J. Box; Minotaur (400 pages, $25.99)

"The Highway" is the summer's most terrifying novel.

With three-dimensional characters and a gripping plot, "The Highway" is even more frightening because of its back story.

C.J. Box bases his story on the real hunt for a murderer working as a long-haul trucker — the FBI's Highway Serial Killer Task Force.

While the FBI's task force statistics are numbing, Box never stoops to the prurient while delivering an edgy, compelling novel.

Set in the remote corners of Montana, the isolated landscape lends a chilling atmosphere where the whine of an 18-wheeler and an unlit back road ratchet up the suspense.

For his 17th novel, Box puts aside his best-known character, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, to return to Cody Holt, a Montana sheriff's department investigator first introduced in the 2011 "Back of Beyond."

A perceptive detective, Cody often is fired because of his grating personality and his penchant for skirting the law to make an arrest.

His life is finally back on track, since he stopped drinking and reconciled with his ex-wife, Jenny, and his teenage son, Justin.

Then he is fired from the Helena sheriff's office for planting evidence that will lead to a killer's arrest.

But Cody doesn't have time to worry about his job.

His son needs him. Justin is worried about his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Sullivan, and her sister, Gracie, who, on a whim, have taken a detour to visit him in Montana.

Danielle is a texting fiend, but hours have passed since Justin heard from the teenage sisters, who are in an area where other young women have disappeared.

A trail leads Cody to Ronald Pergram, a trucker who calls himself the Lizard King and who usually preys on truck-stop prostitutes.

"The Highway" is fueled by believable characters, including the complex Cody; his ex-partner Cassie Dewell, whose investigative skills are tested; and the sisters, the impetuous Danielle and the grounded Gracie. Box succinctly delves into the culture of long-distance truckers, careful to show that the majority of these men and women are hard-working.

Box, whose myriad awards include the Edgar, stretches his storytelling skills with "The Highway," taking extreme risks with the plot, which accelerates from one harrowing, unpredictable twist to another with aplomb.

Prepare to be scared.