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As we rush around buying presents, we must always remember that “our presence rather than our presents” is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
– Catherine Pulsifer  
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  Volume No. 16 Issue No. 12 December 2019  

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  “The Weight of Night”
  By Robin Widmar

   If your summer plans include a visit to the northern Rockies, “The Weight of Night” by Christine Carbo just might stoke that yearning for the great outdoors. In her third book set in and around Montana’s Glacier National Park, Carbo explores the odd twists and turns of the human psyche against a backdrop of beautiful but unforgiving wilderness and raging wildfires.
   The story is told from the first-person point of view of two characters, Gretchen Larson and Monty Harris. Gretchen is the lead crime scene investigator for Montana’s Flathead County Crime Scene Team, and Monty is a park police officer in Glacier National Park. Together they tackle the simultaneous mysteries of human remains discovered during a wildfire and a teenage boy who has gone missing in the park.
   First we meet Gretchen, whose parasomnia has reared its ugly head after a hiatus of just over five years. The affliction, which causes her to unconsciously do strange things while sleepwalking, forces her to take an abundance of precautions to avoid a repeat of the horrific act of violence she committed in her sleep when she was a teenager in Norway. “I fear going to sleep — sometimes dread it,” she says. Her past is a terrible burden to bear and a secret that she fiercely guards.
   Despite his own dysfunctional upbringing, Monty is described as careful, calm, and “the type who didn’t care about what others thought of him; he just wanted to get the job done right, for his own sense of order and justice.” As a pair of wildfires bears down on a small town along the park’s border, Monty and another officer are sent to assist with evacuations. They happen to be close by when a firefighter digging a firebreak unearths a human skull. With fire threatening the potential crime scene, quick action must be taken to preserve any evidence. The nearest forensic anthropologist is hours away, so Gretchen fills in to secure as much of the skeleton as possible before the fire overruns the site.
   As if that weren’t enough to contend with, Monty is notified that a teenage boy has gone missing in the park. It brings back memories of a boyhood friend who also disappeared and was never found — an event that still weighs on Monty and adds to the sense of urgency to find the missing boy. Monty, Gretchen and their teams, along with a pair of FBI agents, run down leads and hit investigative dead ends; but they ultimately uncover possible links between these two seemingly unrelated cases and other instances of boys who have gone missing.
   As the investigations progress, Gretchen’s sleepwalking persists. After Monty witnesses one of her episodes, she must decide whether he can be trusted with the truth she so desperately tries to hide.
   One of Carbo’s strengths is her ability to create vivid imagery that fully engages all of the senses. She is also adept at threading backstory into her narrative, which gives depth and dimension to her characters. It is clear that Carbo has done extensive research into her setting, characters and plot points, which is always a plus for both the story and the reader. However, at times it feels like she tries too hard to demonstrate this knowledge. Readers familiar with wildland firefighting and fire incident management will notice a few stumbles with the jargon. Some Norwegian words and phrases dropped into Gretchen’s narrative also land awkwardly on occasion, even to a non-Norwegian-speaking reader.
   All minor criticisms aside, “The Weight of Night” is an intriguing mystery with uniquely flawed characters and literary-quality writing. It is not a fast-paced story, but there is enough suspense to keep readers turning pages until the very end.
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