The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo

25752090._sy475_Fiction – Kindle edition. Atria Books, 2015. 417 pgs. Purchased.

In 1987, fourteen-year-old Ted Systead and his father were camping in the backcountry of Glacier National Park when a grizzly bear attacked Ted’s father, dragging him out of the tent and to his death. Ted managed to stay awake all night, starting a fire to keep himself warm and plotting how he would get help.

But, in his delirious and anxious state, Ted tripped over a rock, smashing his head and leaving him hospitalized with a concussion long after his father’s body was found. The concussion also allowed park officials to discount his testimony that neither he nor his father did anything to led to bear to attack their tent, and the park ranger leading the investigation announced to the world that Ted’s father’s carelessness was to blame for the mauling.

Twenty years later, that park ranger is now the Superintendent of the Glacier and another man has been mauled by a bear near the site where Ted’s father was killed. Normally, park police investigate bear attacks but the deceased in this case was tied to a tree, indicating murder rather than accident or habituated bear.

The Superintendent has no choice but to call a special agent with the Department of the Interior, and Ted Systead has no choice but to board the plane out of Denver and investigate a case that hits all the close to home.

I have only visited Glacier a handful of times, and I only have fleeting, driven-past-in-a-car memory of most the areas that Carbo focuses on. But the atmospheric nature of Carbo’s writing is absolutely stunning. I was completely transported to the park, able to smell the soil and see the stars and feel disoriented by the lack of markers and infrastructure.

The mystery of whodunit is also quite well crafted. Like other crime novels set in small towns, the people of the Flathead aren’t interested in talking to Ted or assisting in his investigation. The victim was a drug addict and suspected animal abuser, and few people actually mourn his passing.

But Carbo adds her own spin onto this troupe through Ted’s backstory, and she adds another complication via the introduction of Ted’s assigned minder, a Park Ranger named Monty Harris. Is Monty there to report back on Ted for the Superintendent? Is he there to obscure the truth and keep the park from losing visitors?

The only aspect of this novel that didn’t quite work for me was the insertion of facts about bear behavior, the National Park Service, and bear-safe camping behavior. I understand I’m in a very small minority of readers who come into this book with the necessary background on these topics, but much of these facts felt like they were gleamed off Wikipedia and dropped into the story without revision. The tone didn’t quite match the rest of Carbo’s novel.

That said, there are a number of layers to this crime and to the supporting casts of characters, which kept the story from become stale or obvious. I never knew quite where the story was going to go and hated having to set the book aside. All statements I hope to make each time I pick up a new author in the crime genre.

This is my nineteenth book for #20BooksofSummer. When I made my list for the challenge, I didn’t anticipate how much traveling I’d be doing between June and September and didn’t include a single title off my Kindle, which is my go-to while traveling. Thankfully, Cathy is flexible with her “rules” for this challenge, allowing participants to swap in other books and count them towards their challenge total. I purchased the Kindle version of ‘The Wild Inside’ in July 2017.

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