Once There Were Wolves–Book Review

Once There Were WolvesOnce There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved being in the world described by the author. The tale, told through the eyes of Iti, a young woman biologist, evokes an aura of fable, or classic fairy tale as it unwinds the telling of three mysteries: a possible love connection for Iti with Duncan, the local police chief, a perplexing ailment plaguing Aggie, Iti’s twin sister, and an actual murder of a community member. Moreover, throughout the story, a theme reverberates: will Iti’s team be successful introducing wolves back into the highlands of Scotland, and if not, why? I loved that the author is not preachy as she unveils some truths about the world’s reluctance to embrace and preserve the wildness of nature, specifically represented by the wolves and the attempt by humans to extinguish their species. The book explores this violence making the reader yearn for a return to a more natural balance between prey and predator. We learn, for instance, that absent the wolves as predator, the deer have so denuded the forests that no new saplings will grow, resulting in fewer trees, upon which we humans rely for oxygen. Parallel to the violence involving animals, the reader learns about the violence inflicted by men against their wives and the repercussions that has upon the victims who are unable to recover from the trauma.
The characters come alive in the book, to the point where I felt I was communicating with friends as I read it. The mysteries resolve themselves in a surprising but satisfying manner. It is a book I will remember. I loved the feel of it–a soft touch to difficult topics.

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The Killing Hills-Book Review

The Killing HillsThe Killing Hills by Chris Offutt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book review, The Killing Hills, by Chris Offutt, Grove Press, 2021, 219 pages

In this short novel, the author takes the reader on a journey to the eastern hills of Kentucky where a woman has been murdered, and an unlikely brother-sister team are positioned to solve it. Mick, now AWOL from the criminal investigation department (CID) of the army stationed in Germany, has been called upon by his sister, Linda, now Sheriff of the small, insular Appalachian community, to assist in the investigation. Having served in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, Mick notes the similarity in the use of violence between the clans living in the hollers of Kentucky and those groups in Afghanistan. On a personal level Mick must also solve the mystery of who fathered the baby his now pregnant wife carries. Mick and Peggy knew each other as children, married at 19 and have spent the better part of their 12 year old marriage apart.
The author uses an array of creative language to both describe the environment in which the story takes place and the dialogue of the characters. Examples are:
“Mick left his sister’s house and headed east. The sun lay above the hillside as if resting, tinging the western treetops with flame…He made a sharp curve to a ridge that ended at a house surrounded by heavy woods. There was more sun here and he a briefly pitied people who lived in the hollers where it was already night.
He waited in the truck and watched for dogs. People unaccustomed to visitors in an unknown vehicle were capable of greeting a strangers with a weapon.”
And the dialogue conveys the uniqueness of the people:
“Your son is more or less why I’m here.
Which one?
Uh, well, Mick hesitated, your second boy, I reckon.
Oh, she said. Fuckin’ Barney. He ain’t here right now.
You call him that too?
We’re a nickname family. You know Shifty’s not my real name, either. It’s Camille Littleton, then I got married and my husband started in calling me Shifty because the only clothes I had were shifts my mother made. Now we got Cricket, Jimbo, Junebug, Sheetrock, Doodle and Rickets.”
Rickets. Ain’t that a disease?
Yeah, but he ain’t never had it. Just born bow-legged.”

I enjoyed reading this artfully crafted novel. The story is tightly woven and I read it in two sittings. The characters came alive. The setting exposed me to an area of the country I had only some scant familiarity with when I visited my sister, Jo-Ann, when she worked as a geologist for a coal company in West Virginia, and had just experienced one of their yearly floods in the holler in which she resided with her family. It is my understanding that this is the first mystery/thriller set in the eastern hills of Kentucky. I recommend it withs 4 stars.

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