Can’t camp. All campgrounds are closed. Can’t leave the county. Might spread something. Can barely leave the house without a mask and gloves. What are we supposed to do, watch paint dry? Smack dab in the middle of a nationwide lockdown who wouldn’t want to sit down and while away some time with a good book? Especially if you write a blog about National Parks and the book you plan to dive into is a mystery (my favorite genre) that’s set in one of the most iconic National Parks in the country! That’s why I was EXTREMELY EXCITED to pick up the paperback titled, The Wild Inside … A Novel of Suspense by Christine Carbo.
The storyline follows Ted Systead, a special agent for the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service as he investigates a grizzly attack/possible murder in Glacier National Park — are you kidding me? I’m definitely in for that! The one-page preface had me completely hooked. Oh, this was going to be a good read! Mystery, nature and suspense … the trifecta! But then chapter one happened.
It wasn’t that the book was terrible. If it was, I would have walked away without finishing it. But in a time where my full attention should have been focused on the pages I was frantically turning, my fingers barely moved. Being that the March/early April weather in Minnesota wasn’t very pleasant during this pandemic, I originally expected to traverse the 400+ paperback pages in record time. I can usually tell the quality of the writing by how long it takes me to read a book. This one dragged on for weeks, despite the lockdown. Fortunately, the Public Library was also locked down, so my renewal date got pushed back, even though there was a waiting list.
As mysteries go, the main character – the hero of the book – wasn’t all that captivating. A boatload of other characters were introduced and it started to get difficult to keep them all straight. The timeline also crawled. Almost a week after the initial body discovery, the investigation wasn’t really progressing much, causing the pace of the book to be somewhat glacial.
Fortunately, there were some glimpses of Glacier National Park’s natural beauty sprinkled throughout the investigation to help paint a picture of this special place in my mind and keep me plowing through the pages. One particular passage set me right there in the woods:
“I sat still, felt the cold air on my nose. I listened to the water, ever so faintly lapping on the pebbled shore, and spotted some small dark moving objects, which I figured were ducks splashing around on the opposite side of the lake. They moved in the shadows below the steep ridge to the north, which halfway down had a fringe of fluffy mist hanging stagnantly at its base like the trim at the bottom of Santa’s hat.”
Despite the great descriptive prose, it was the mystery plot that lacked some artistry. In my opinion, the red herrings weren’t enough to entice a seasoned mystery reader down a wrong path. Unfortunately, the breadcrumbs weren’t really enough to allow a good sleuth to figure out the mystery, either.
Through the book’s struggles and successes Carbo tried, (albeit sometimes too hard,) to justify her book title, The Wild Inside. The author made an obvious effort to compare the wild of the grizzly bears and the raw wild of the nature setting within the National Park to the wild feelings running rampant in Agent Systead. It was an intriguing concept, but the results didn’t necessarily hit home with me. As you may see online or in library reviews, many other readers don’t necessarily agree with my conclusions, so don’t shy away from giving this book a try if you’ve been contemplating it.
Even though I wasn’t enthralled, I am glad I gave a new author a shot in this genre. I’ll never tire of reading fiction books about nature, mysteries and national parks. C.J. Box and his amazing book Back of Beyond will probably forever be at the top of my “Favorites List”, but I will never stop trying to knock it from its throne with a better read. If you’re keeping score or taking notes, I also am a big fan of authors William Kent Krueger, Keith McCafferty, and Paul Doiron, to name a few.
I do have to admit, in the end, reading The Wild Inside was much better than just sitting inside and watching that paint dry. The beautiful “word scenery” added some striking contrast to my Corona Virus captivity. But I if I had to provide a rating, I’d probably give it a 2-1/2 out of 5 on my Camp Stamp of approval scale.
What are some of your favorite books about National Parks or the great outdoors? I’d love to hear your recommendations! Drop a note in the comments box or shoot us an email at ParkYourselfOutdoors@gmail.com, as this pandemic might have all of us reading about, instead of exploring, the outdoors for a while longer!
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