As arguments rage across the country over the federal protection status of the gray wolf, an unknown hunter in northern Minnesota declares open season on the disputed animal.
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Snake Jones Mysteries
Events take a darker turn when a cantankerous local man with outspoken anti-wolf sentiments is murdered. Pulled into the murder investigation, Snake Jones finds herself at odds with her husband, Jeff, for the first time in their marriage. The future of their fledging television program depends on her staying focused on scouting film locations at the Minnesota Wolf Institute and not looking for a killer. Then the radical postings of a fringe environmental group and a crisis at the Wolf Institute force her to abandon her resolve to not get involved and draw her closer to discovering who the killer is. Certain the events are connected, she races to connect the dots before the murderer strikes again.
It would be easy to get lost in these woods. Raw wilderness extended as far as the eye could see. My hiking boots forged through the scrub grass and I ducked under a fir branch. It was a daunting place of ankle-eating ruts and shadowy hollows surrounded by legions of silent timber grenadiers, where darkness could swoop down with a heart-catching suddenness.
A pang of dread fisted around my heart at the bleak prospect of what lay ahead. After a few false turns, a flutter of black wings behind a wild blueberry bush drew our attention.
“That’s it,” Peter said darkly.
The grip on my heart tightened.
“Oh—“ Gina stopped dead in her tracks.
There were four carcasses in all. Tossed in a loose pile, pockmarked by small bloodied rips where the ravens had picked at the bodies. Without the ripping jaws of the wolves to do their work for them, the birds had struggled to tear open the flesh.
Gina and I stood by quietly as Peter knelt to examine the remains. At the sound of a raspy-throated “HRAAAK! HRAAAK!” I gazed upward and smiled at a great blue heron soaring overhead, a welcomed distraction given the solemnity of the moment. After it flew behind me, I sidled over to a gap in the trees for a better view of this wonderful specimen. Blue-gray wings laconically flapped a quarter mile away toward a hill, which rose above the endless tree canopy like an island amid a green ocean. Two birch trees shot up from the hill top, leaning toward each other like a big white ‘X’. The heron came to rest upon one of the upper branches, where it became a dark speck against the forest.
Snake Jones is back. Following her excellent debut in Victor and Mallory’s Death Roll, Snake finds herself embroiled in a dispute between northern Minnesota ranchers and the federally protected gray wolf.
Killer Instinct opens with an old, crusty local yelling across the Last Chance Outfitters store at Snake: “… Shoot ‘em all, every last one of ‘em. Nothin’ but varmints…worthless murdering scavengers!” Snake is in the small town of Wolf Lake, Minnesota, gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, with her film crew to shoot a segment of Zoofari for the Minnesota Valley Zoo. There’s some buzz that Animal Planet may pick it up for syndication. When she and her old college friend, Gina Brown, later discover four wolf-carcasses, shot and hidden in the woods, the old loudmouth from the diner becomes Snake’s first suspect. But the old coot is soon eliminated – quite literally—as a suspect, shot by the same rifle that killed the wolves.
More murders and peculiarities ensue, and Snake, even though she can’t afford to be distracted from this important film project, can’t rest until she gets to the bottom of these mysteries. Ultimately, Snake and her Aussie husband Jeff will need to rely on all the survival instincts and training they have when, deep in the dark interior of Superior National Forest, they find themselves pursued by the ultimate predator: a crazed killer desperate to protect a deadly secret.
Some of my favorite books, and a major reason I enjoy reading, teach me something while I’m being entertained. This book contains a wealth of material on animal behavior. I never knew, for example, that ravens are the only bird that will fly towards a gun shot. They have learned that that’s quite possibly where their next meal will be found, thus overcoming what would seem to be a natural instinct to fly away. In one of those coincidences that happen now and then, the day after I finished reading Killer Instinct, this headline appeared from the Associated Press: “Feds Want Wolf Off Endangered List” (September 14, 2010). We might have had to wait a few years for this new Snake Jones adventure, but you have to admit, it’s about as timely as you can get. Killer Instinct is both a great entertainment and a compelling mystery, with a strong sense of place (fans of William Kent Krueger take note) and really cool, interesting characters. Marilyn Victor and Michael Allan Mallory have seamlessly combined their voices into a well-tuned and expressive unison. –Gary Shulze, Once Upon a Crime for Crimespree Magazine
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