Christine Carbo’s debut novel is set nearly in the Whitefish author’s backyard, against the stunning backdrop of Glacier National Park. When a young man is found duct-taped to a tree and half eaten, presumably by a grizzly bear, special agent for the Department of the Interior Ted Systead is summoned from Denver to investigate.
The victim is a drug dealer and general low-life with several enemies. But who would want to kill him? Systead reluctantly teams up with park officer Monty Harris to unearth the answer.
What Systead does not reveal to his co-investigator is that when he was 14, his father was killed by a grizzly on a back-country camping trip with his son in Glacier. It was in the papers, but that was years ago.
As Systead methodically goes through the investigative process he discovers that the man was shot before being attacked. When the grizzly is captured, a tug-of-war ensues with the park superintendent over what to do about recovering evidence.
On the surface, Systead is driven only to solve the crime. But the past still haunts him and occasional flashbacks take the reader into another dimension, showing a side of the detective that is still raw, troubled, and haunted by his father’s death.
Carbo deftly describes her characters, fleshing out the events and the setting to give a clear picture of what preceded the crime. Her knowledge of the park and insight into the politics at stake add significantly to the story. From beginning to end, the work is an enjoyable read with elements of suspense, enlightenment, tenderness, and finally, closure.
“Carbo paints a moving picture of complex, flawed people fighting to make their way in a wilderness where little is black or white, except the smoky chiaroscuro of the sweeping Montana sky,” writes Publishers Weekly.
– Judy Shafter