Medora Slone says wolves killed her son. Well, they'd kill two kids already that winter, so sure, why not? Except Medora calls a wolf expert, Russell Core, and asks him to find and kill the wolves. Based on a book he'd written about observing a wolf pack for a year. Even though he wrote about how devastated he was when he had to kill one of the wolves for killing a child. He tries to dissuade her, but ultimately goes into the woods, and kills no wolves.
Just as well, since the wolves weren't guilty, and Medora's in the wind. Then her husband returns from the war, and proceeds to carve a bloody path trying to track her down.
I was expecting more focus on actual wolves, but Giraldi seems more interested in drawing some similarity between humans and animals. Actions taken under extreme stress, the pack mentality of small towns, keeping their secrets from everyone regarded as "outsiders", no matter how horrific. Or maybe it's supposed to be about how difficult it is living in the Alaskan wilderness, how strange and oppressive it can seem, and what it brings out in people who choose to continue living there. Because damn, do characters in this book love to go on about how cursed or off things seem there. It reminded me of Stephen King, when he's trying to establish how a particular place seems wrong, somehow. Except rather than maybe handling it in one scene and then letting events speak for themselves, Giraldi keeps having characters directly refer to it. Trying too hard.
The book is only 200 pages, but Core drops out of it for about half the book, right in the middle. There's all this murder and bizarre people (and a huge gun battle shootout with the cops that seemed out of place), and Core is in some sickly delirious state in a hotel room during all of it. Until right at the end, the sheriff ropes him back in as some last resort. It felt like Core is supposed to receive some resolution on things that had haunted him, but the book also seems to position him as an observer for something else, which doesn't really lend itself to resolving anything about him. His ending doesn't feel like it fits, and I really didn't see any point to bringing him back, other than Giraldi felt the book would sputter out otherwise.
"Mr. Core, do you have any idea what's out those windows? Just how deep it goes? How black it gets? How that black gets into you. Let me tell you, Mr. Core, you're not on earth here." She looked into the steam of her mug, then paused as if to drink. "None of us ever have been."