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by Alice Henderson
William Morrow, November 2022
320 pages
ISBN: 0063223007

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Alex Carter is a wildlife biologist who, at least in this third volume of the series, is a bit of a freelancer. She's called to the remote northern forest in Washington state when a mountain caribou is picked up on a motion sensitive camera in a nature preserve. The issue is that there are not supposed to be any mountain caribou in the lower 48 states since the last few were relocated to Canada in an effort to avoid their extinction. And this is the issue with the book as well. Henderson uses this situation as an opportunity to provide a lecture on the history of the animal in the area. This sets the tone for the first part of the book, which feels very much like lecture notes with a plot wrapped around them. There is a lot of information imparted, both about mountain caribou and about conservation efforts. It is less than completely integrated into the novel, however.

Midway through the book, Henderson hits her stride. By this point, Alex has encountered a tree-sitter attempting to protect the forest, a menacing caretaker of a logging camp , a vagrant living in tunnels and, of course, the caribou. Several women, all fitting a certain profile, have disappeared or been killed, and Alex has inserted herself into the search and rescue investigation. The pace of the book picks up dramatically as it transitions from didactic to plot-driven. There a couple of ancillary plot lines involving Alex's father and an actor friend that are mostly distractions, although they produce sparks in Alex's mind that turn into valuable clues.

Characterization is rather sparse. We learn that Alex is a loner, more comfortable in the wilderness than society, and that she is a sort of superwoman as she takes charge and survives situations that would kill most mortals. None of the secondary characters is developed beyond their role to further the plot. Most of the descriptive language is reserved for the forest and nature in general, which end up being the most fully realized “characters” in the book. The plot, while being over the top at times, makes the book hard to put down as it rushes to conclusion. I found the resolution a bit forced, but it did tie up loose ends.

I have not read the previous two books in the series, so I am not sure if this one is indicative of her style in general. It is possible that Alex Carter is fully fleshed out as a character earlier in the series and that this book is better read as a part of that series rather than a standalone. Having finished A GHOST OF CARIBOU, I am not rushing out to start the series at the beginning, however. I love books about the outdoors, but this one fell a bit flat for me.

§ Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, November 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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