Tag Archives: Diane Les Besquets

THE LAST WOMEN IN THE FOREST: a novel

It’s a terrible thing to have loved someone and not know the extent to which you have been deceived… – Marian Engström

Marian Engström scanned the seasonal conservation job listings for her next position. Her latest job had taken her to South Padre Island, Texas to rescue sea turtles but the contract ended and time to move along.

As a dog lover, she was pleased to find a position with Conservation Canines through the University of Washington. The study would be in the bitter sub-zero cold of the snowy mountains near Alberta where oil exploration in oil sands was taking place. The team of dog handlers and trip orienteers would be based out of Whitefish, Montana in a place the group called “The Den”.  Marian, and the other orienteers, would assist the dog handlers setting up trip navigation in designated zones locating wolf, caribou and moose scat, bagging each detected specimen, and charting the waypoints. The purpose of the study is to examine the effects of the oil drilling on the wildlife in the area. This aspect of the novel is well researched and reads a little bit clinical but very interesting.

The book opens with the vividly described murder of a trusting young woman charmed by someone she perceived to be a good Samaritan. Labeling the murdered girl, (Stillwater) Victim #1, alerts the reader to watch for clues. One of the primary or secondary characters is a serial killer!

We meet Marian six months after she has moved to the Whitefish base camp. She is wading into Bull Creek sprinkling the ashes of her boyfriend and dog handler, Tate, and watching them flow downstream. The accident that caused his death unknown to the reader.

It was a beautiful spot…Tate had chosen this location…had pressed the river rock against her palm and asked her to remember.

Marian stands in the cold stream reflecting on their brief relationship with its sweet and sour tones. Heading back to camp, she’s left with an edgy feeling that something was off.  Did he really loved her as much as she loved him? Where to begin to unravel her contradictory feelings?

Tate would share life stories with her making her cry in sympathy for him. One tear-jerker described a stray dog he adopted as a child that died after falling into a swift stream.  Another time, out of the blue, he tells her he found the body of one of the four Stillwater murders. She decides to confirm the accuracy of this story to ease her mind.

She contacts Nick Shepard, a retired forensic profiler, known to be intimately involved in the Stillwater murder investigations. Although he is dying of cancer, a fact he tries to keep from her, he agrees to help confirm or dispel the facts of Tate’s story.

With Marian and Nick narrating, the story gymnastically flips back and forth in time beginning when Tate picked her up at the airport and ultimately reaches present day where we learn about Tate’s fate. Juxtaposed between Marian and Nick’s chapters are vivid tales of the other three unsolved Stillwater murders that may be a bit disturbing to some people. The final chapters pull together loose threads leading to a dramatic conclusion.

The isolation and loneliness of the job were palpable. As one person said, “It a way of life – not a job”; someone comfortable with themselves alone or someone running from life and reaching the end of the line. It’s do or die time. Survival is not so much the result of luck as it is of skill and training. The overarching themes of observation and situational awareness crisscrossed Marian’s job as well as her personal life.

The job was never a problem for Marian. She was well-suited for the conditions and the work. The issue was emotional and her insecurity with humans. Was she as gullible as it seemed or was she out maneuvered by a mastermind of evil? Surrounded by macho mountain men with personalities like Jeremiah Johnson, was it easy for a young woman to be drawn to a man seemingly devoted to her? Did Nick find peace for the families of the murdered girls?

A good solid book worthy of a read. There’s something for everyone -love, friendship, trust and distrust, murder, dogs, freezing cold and stark wilderness settings.

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Breaking Wild

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Breaking Wild

by Diane Les Becquets
Penguin Random House | 2016
ARC e-Reader provided
Hardcover: 310 pages (978-0-425-28378-3)
Genre: Adult/Fiction/Mystery      ★★★1/2

 

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge
by Doubleday Books through NetGalley
in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

  “…something was taking hold of her, an awareness of her surroundings, and the cold and the approaching nightfall.  She’s relied on her adrenaline, had  attacked these woods, trying to make good time, and now with each step, she knew just how lost she had become.”

I have been arm wrestling my brain for a couple of weeks deciding what I think of the book.   It wasn’t until I read the transcript of an interview on NPR with the author that I realized what was troubling me.  Les Becquets revealed that Breaking Wild, in her words is an “autobiographical fiction”.  A skilled hunter herself, Les Becquets survived a terrifying rainy cold night after her headlamp failed while elk hunting in Colorado.

Initially I was trying to review the story from my librarian frame of mind but my inner voice, as a woods woman myself, was telling me I was negatively judging the actions of Amy Raye Latour.  It seemed inconceivable to me that a skilled hunter would make so many compounding life endangering split second decisions. Everyone makes a bad choice at times to leave an important piece of gear home or fails to anticipate an injury on a simple day trip.  But few would wander into the Colorado wild with so little thought.

But that gets to the heart of the story.  As well researched and vividly described, the wilderness serves as a backdrop to their inner stories. The reverence for nature is palpable for Ranger Pru and Amy Raye.  The painful secrets in their daily lives overwhelms them.

Les Becquets gives us two physically strong women both comfortable alone in the wilderness; neither intimidated by adverse weather, difficult terrain, or life in the shady depths. When faced with an unexpected challenge in the wild, both women are more than capable of facing it head-on.

Yet despite the mastery of survival in nature each struggles to overcome deep scarring events in their personal lives, incapable of stepping through pain, remorse or regret. Each has chosen to let sleeping demons lie thus delaying any hope of happiness or resolution. Will they remain as alone and isolated in life as they are in the wilderness?  Or will they allow themselves to step forward risking pain to find joy and peace?

The librarian in me wants to note that the flashes into the past at times were distracting.  The men in the lives of these women were depicted as a little weak in my estimation.  Not really worthy of these powerful women.

I spotted a few unresolved things, the most obvious was the loss of Ken’s borrowed gun.  When she did an inventory of her pack, why didn’t she note that she no longer had the gun?

But overall I found it a fascinating story.  The author has taken on distinctly different issues and handled them wonderfully. I rated it 3 1/2 stars. A four star has to really keep my attention enough to ignore the repeated buzzing timer on the stove.

Readers of Jon Krakauer’s tragic true life story of Chris McCandless in Into the Wild will find this fictional survival story much to their liking.

One final note. The descriptions of the elk hunt are quite graphic.  Although handled in an expert manner, they may upset some readers.

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