Tag Archives: Wilderness

A Solitude of Wolverines: a suspense fiction

Don’t go down to the woods tonight–who knows what you will find?
Something might be stalking you, and crawl right up behind
You might feel a cold, cold breath on your pretty neck
You’ll say that you ain’t scared… you’ll turn around to check…
Your eyes go wide, your knees go weak, you won’t know what to do
Don’t go down to the woods tonight–I wouldn’t if I were you!

–  performed by The Hellblinki Sextet

Fans of Nevada Barr and her hard-core National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon meet Alice Henderson’s “badass” wildlife biologist named Alex Carter. Like Nevada Barr, herself a former Park Ranger, Alice Henderson, an author of a science fiction series and suspense novels, is an experienced wildlife researcher. Her previous works include the dystopian series, The Skyfire Saga.

A Solitude of Wolverines (October 27, 2020) is her first book in a new suspense series and is set in Montana, high up in the Rocky Mountain wilderness. Alex Carter, an audacious female wildlife biologist, faces head-on, all types of wild creatures and dangers- wild, exotic, and human.

We meet Alex struggling with why she made the concession to put her boyfriend’s needs above her own  and move to the big city. Brad’s high-flying big city career has made him a demanding narcissist. Alex pines for a return to her life working in nature. Her achievements in conservation in the city haven’t met all her needs. While Alex is dealing with her failing relationship, she attends a conservation award ceremony and is nearly killed by a rabid anti-conservationist shooter. Rattled to her core, she jumps at the chance to leave the city to takeover a wolverine study in the Rocky Mountains wilderness of Montana.

The book excels in revealing Alex’s affinity for the natural world. As a woodsy woman, I found myself sharing time with Alex to the whispering wind in the trees, the sounds of creatures carrying on their daily lives, the joy of discovery of what lies just over the hill or a spotlighted wildflower captured in a sudden moment of shifting sunlight.  I also remember, like Alex, the unnatural sounds of impending danger, a sound out of synchrony with the normal harmony of the wilderness – a low threatening snort, the slithering in the grass too close for comfort, or the sense of being observed or stalked.

Most of the residents of the fictional town of Bitterroot, like other cloistered towns, disdain outlanders.  The recent creation of the Land Trust for Wildlife Conservation has everyone’s dander up. The land, the site of an abandoned large-scale ski resort, had been openly used by the locals to graze livestock and hunt game. The land is now off-limits. The ban is observed by some and abused by others.

After settling into the old ski lodge, Alex takes a deep breath and looks out the bedroom window reflecting on her trip to town the day before. She had used the old truck to pick up supplies in town and had been nearly forced off the road by a reckless driver. She became startled by finding a man placing a note under the windshield wipers of the truck. Now what?

You are not welcome here.
Leave while you can.

Our girl hitches up her gear and heads out to set up camera traps looking for wolverines. She will not be scared from her completing her mission. She is grateful for her childhood trips with her mother learning wilderness survival skills. And it won’t hurt that she has martial arts training.

As you head out into the mountainous wilderness with her, don’t lose track of your will to live. Forget your phone. There is no service. When you find yourself in danger, it is just you against  the unknown. And there are plenty of those things that go bump in the night.

I rated the book a solid 4 stars. The information about wolverines and information about endangered species was fascinating and informative. The suspense scenes were captivating. The exacting descriptions of her equipment and research skills was very interesting. I was pleased to see that our new heroine could take on the big guys – go girl!  The book wasn’t perfect. As a first book in a series, it felt mired down at times establishing the character. And let’s just say, her boy friend, Brad seemed distracting and unnecessary and phone calls to her best friend interrupted the tension from time to time.  Looking forward to the next book!

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THE LAST WOMAN 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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