I haven’t been this excited about a mystery series since I got into Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series in 2011.
Thanks to publisher William Morrow for sending the Book Cougars a review copy of Alice Henderson’s new novel, A Solitude of Wolverines. What made me grab the book with enthusiasm is the blurb from Nevada Barr on the front cover. Barr’s Anna Pigeon series is what got me into reading mysteries as an adult. And if I’d never heard of Nevada Barr the cover, designed by Elsie Lyons, would have captured my attention.
I was a Hardy Boys fan as a kid, but other mystery novels never took with me after that series. Well-meaning adults recommended Agatha Christie but I wasn’t yet ready for her. Or maybe it was that one night I asked a bookseller to recommend more novels like Dracula and I went home with Salem’s Lot. After that, Stephen King took over my reading life for years.
It wasn’t until I saw Nevada Barr’s first Anna Pigeon novel, The Track of the Cat, reviewed in an outdoorsy magazine that I again tried a mystery novel. I fell in love and faithfully read each Anna Pigeon novel as they were released. I longed for something similar as that series wound down.
Well, the wait is finally over thanks to Alice Henderson’s new Alex Carter series.
A Solitude of Wolverines is a fantastic read for mystery and thriller fans who love the great outdoors and wilderness. Or for readers who’ve never read a mystery and love the great outdoors and wilderness. A must read for fans of Nevada Barr.
“Both a mystery and a survival story, here is a novel written with a naturalist’s eye for detail and an unrelenting pace. It reminded me of the best of Nevada Barr.” —James Rollins
Series protagonist Alex Carter is a field biologist who specializes in surveying endangered species. At the opening of the novel, her most recent assignment has wrapped up in Boston. City living is not for Alex, but she’s been trying to save her long-term relationship. She met her boyfriend at Berkeley when they were students. They shared common ideals but have grown in different directions. Alex longs for field work in the wilderness and he’s chasing money.
After a harrowing incident at a wetlands celebration, Alex gets a phone call from her professor offering a temporary field assignment to study wolverines in Montana. She jumps on the opportunity.
The owners of an old ski lodge in Montana donated all the buildings and a vast amount of land to the preservation group that has hired Alex to survey the property for wolverines. The lodge closed long ago and is set in a remote area up in the mountains. For some, this means the horror of no cell phone service or internet. Locals like to tell Alex about the horrible things that have happened in the abandoned hotel over the years. She’s advised to avoid The Shining.
As Alex settles in, it’s obvious that some folks don’t want her type around. Nevertheless, she gets to work and sets up camera “traps” around the property. These traps are designed to snag a bit of fur from an animal and snap a photo at the same time. The animal gets to go on its way and Alex will have samples to study. When one of these traps is destroyed, Alex reaches out to the local law enforcement. She and the sheriff don’t talk much as they hike up toward the demolished trap.
“Used to hunt in these woods myself, after the resort closed down. Many a fine afternoon spent here, looking for bucks. You probably don’t want to hear about that, do you?” he added.Page 87
Frankly, she didn’t.
“We hunters do the forest a favor, you know. If it wasn’t for us, the deer would become overpopulated and sick.”
Alex weighed the effectiveness of a response. Finally she said, “What would make the forest really healthy would be to restore its natural balance of predators and prey. Wolves and mountain lions keep deer and elk populations in check by removing weak and sick individuals.”
The sheriff blinked at her, and, to her relief and amazement, just went quiet.”(87)
Not long after this exchange, Alex discovers that the land is being used illegally by a local rancher. He’s the richest guy in town and considers himself the alpha male. Alex comes across a section of fence that was neatly cut and rolled back for cattle to graze. Later, while having lunch in town, the rancher disturbs Alex’s meal:
He hooked a meaty thumb into the front pocket of his jeans. “You gotta understand ranching if you’re going to live out here.”Page 169
“My forte is more heritage biology.”
Cooper squinted. “What’s that?”
“Returning the land to its original state, with its native species,” she told him. “And removing invasive ones.” Like cows.
These are age-old attitudes about hunting and cattle ranching that are expected in stories about wilderness protection or western land management, but the focus is more on Alex’s enjoyment of the wilderness and her work. It’s interesting to get a peek into what it’s like to conduct a field study
But Alex often feels like someone is watching her. Then one of her cameras snaps a photo of a wounded man in great distress. And who is sending her anonymous postcards and why?
I don’t want to give any spoilers about how the story ends up being one of survival, as Mr. Rollins points out in his blurb quoted above. In addition to the wilderness and action, this is also the story of another type of survival — a woman who realizes she’s drifted away from herself.
“For a long time she’d been operating in an unfulfilling space, her mind on how her life wasn’t turning out the way she had imagined it rather than how to make it the life she longed for. But this was her chance.”Page 171
Reader, this is your chance to dive into a top notch suspense novel featuring an exciting new series protagonist, one who is smart and resourceful but also relatable.
I can’t wait to read the next Alex Carter novel, A Blizzard of Polar Bears, coming out in November 2021.
About the author
A Solitude of Wolverines is not Henderson’s first novel. She’s written a trilogy, several stand-alones, TV-show tie-ins for Supernatural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as material for several Star Wars video games.
Henderson brings her real-life experience as a wildlife researcher to her writing. I have to quote this whole paragraph about her work because it sounds so cool:
Using a variety of methods including bioacoustic studies, she undertakes wildlife surveys to determine what species are present on lands that have been set aside for conservation. There she ensures there are no signs of poaching and devises of ways to improve habitat. Using geographic information systems (GIS), she also designs wildlife corridors and builds habitat suitability models and species distribution models. She has surveyed for the presence of grizzlies, wolves, spotted owls, wolverines, jaguars, endangered bats, and more.
Visit Alice’s website to learn more: http://www.alicehenderson.com/
I’ll end this post with my friend Sue’s succinct review on Instagram: