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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“A Solitude of Wolverines”

A lot of people are familiar with terms for certain groups of animals: a herd of elephants, a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions. However, there does not seem to be a commonly used collective name for wolverines, small but fierce creatures that typically do not live in groups once they reach adulthood. Alex Carter, the wildlife biologist at the center of Alice Hendersonís novel, ìA Solitude of Wolverines,î coins that term in a nod to the animalsí mostly solitary nature.In the aftermath of an active shooter event, Alex flees a strained relationship and the confines of East Coast urban life to study wolverines in the West. She prefers being out in nature and is all too happy to leave the inner-city jungle for life in the wilds. ìWolverine research called for a certain type of person who was OK with long hours alone navigating rugged terrain. It suited her perfectly.î In contrast, people like her neighbor in Boston ìwere all too common, not understanding the allure of the wild, largely, she suspected, because theyíd never been out in it.îThe assignment takes her to a former ski resort turned wildlife preserve in the northwestern part of Montana, where she lives alone in a sprawling, possibly haunted lodge reminiscent of the hotel in ìThe Shining.î Environmentalists can expect clashes when they venture into areas with deeply entrenched ranching and hunting cultures, but Alex is served a heaping dose of animosity. On her first day, she finds an ominous note on her windshield that could be interpreted as either a threat or a warning. She subsequently is run off the road and has her vehicle sabotaged, but the gruff local sheriff dismisses her concerns. ìThe land trust just ainít very popular around here,î he says. ìThatís all. Donít take it personal.î Fortunately, Alex also discovers loyal and colorful allies in the community who support her research.Among the tools Alex employs are camera ìtrapsî designed to capture images as well as tufts of animal fur (without harming the animal). Both are analyzed to determine how many different wolverines live in and around the preserve. Alex is delighted when her traps produce useful pictures and hair samples from the elusive wolverines. She is less delighted when her cameras photograph a barefoot man who appears to be injured and lacking adequate clothing to survive in the Montana wilderness.Alex persuades the sheriff to initiate a search and rescue mission. Despite her own encounter with the man and precise GPS coordinates of his last known location, searchers cannot locate him. He has seemingly vanished. Alex eventually stumbles across the disturbing reason he was in the wilderness in such a state. That discovery evolves into the fight of Alexís life as she tries to evade violent wildlife traffickers hellbent on silencing her.The strength of this book lies in the authorís ability to tie her personal experiences to those of Alex, which lends authenticity and credibility to the story. Her descriptions can be evocative and fully immerse the reader in the experience. We share Alexís joy of breathing in the crisp fall air of the northern Rockies, her unease over strange noises in the creepy lodge, the biting cold and blinding snow of a winter storm, and fear that cuts to the soul as she fights to survive the humans hunting her.However, a reliance on crutch words and phrases, repetitive actions and clichÈd secondary characters detract from an otherwise engaging storyline. Alex is a strong and capable protagonist, but over-the-top climactic scenes might leave readers wondering if she is the secret offspring of MacGyver and Wonder Woman.All technical criticism aside, though, the book fills a niche for escapist reading while providing valuable insights into wildlife research and the lives of wolverines in particular. It also shines a light on the ongoing conflicts between those who work to protect what remains of the worldís natural resources and those who only work to protect their own interests.

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