Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Book Review: The Last Woman in the Forest

By Jami Deise

Lately I’ve been pitched quite a few books about women and their dogs in the wilderness. Some might see that as a sign that I need to head into unforgiving nature with my German shepherd. I, however, read these books while grateful for the comfort and security of my suburban Florida home. Sometimes I read them outside on the swing in my backyard, but then the mosquitos chase me indoors. Thus is the extent of my outdoor adventures.

My latest entry in the literary world of snow and woods came courtesy of Diane Les Becquets, whose second novel, The Last Woman in the Forest, combines wilderness tales with women’s fiction and mystery. Marian Engström works as a dog handler in the woods of Canada, using the canines to track endangered wildlife. Devastated by the death of her co-worker and lover, Tate, Marian begins to wonder if Tate could have been the serial killer who’d brutally murdered several young women in nearby and other wilderness areas over the years. She reaches out to Nick, the retired forensic profiler who’s dying of cancer and who made a name for himself tracking this killer. Can Marian and Nick find out the truth about Tate before Nick succumbs to his disease?

The prose in The Last Woman in the Forest reads more like literary fiction than suspense, with third-person point of view that lingers on the description of snowy woods. (There are also several detailed descriptions of murders, which are jarring in juxtaposition to their picturesque locales and might trigger those sensitive to violence.) Les Becquets alternates between Marian and Nick’s points-of-view (the murders come from the victims’) and past and present. Reading how Marian and Tate fall in love, how he woos her with compliments but then leaves her cold if she questions him or does something he disapproves of, made me wonder about the fine line between a serial killer’s psychosis and typical male dating behavior.

Because Tate is dead when the book opens (his cause of death isn’t revealed till much later, but it’s clear from the beginning that Tate died alone in the woods), the book lacks the feeling of suspense and high stakes that a killer on the loose would provide. While Les Becquets does establish that someone out there doesn’t want Marian to continue her investigation, these moments are so few and far between that they do not add up to that feeling of hot breath on the neck of the protagonist.

I enjoyed Les Becquets’s voice, and I liked the blend of women’s fiction and suspense. Even though I guessed the ending, the combination of these genres and the alternating timelines gave the book’s structure an unpredictability despite the binary nature of its central mystery. I also enjoyed seeing Marian’s growth from the uncertain new dog handler to a confident woman ready to face the truth about her boyfriend and its consequences.

Very few women will ponder the question of whether the man they love is a serial killer. But thematically, the dilemma is much broader than that: How many of us have wondered, at one time or another, whether we really know the person on the pillow next to us at all?

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Diane Les Becquets:

1 comment:

Dianna said...

Wow, this is a very unique storyline. If I had suspicions that the person I loved was a serial killer.....might need to rethink my standards.