Book Review: Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong

March 2, 2020 Book Reviews 0

Book Review: Alone in the Wild by  Kelley Armstrong

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong
Genres: Thriller
Published by Minotaur Books on February 4, 2020
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Also by this author: Omens, Wild Justice, Sea of Shadows, Visions, The Masked Truth, City of the Lost, Forest of Ruin, Betrayals, A Darkness Absolute, Indigo, Rituals, The Unquiet Past, This Fallen Prey, Stolen, Rough Justice, Dime Store Magic, Industrial Magic, Haunted, Broken, Dark Screams: Volume Nine, No Humans Involved,, Waking the Witch, Portents, Missing, Watcher in the Woods

Fifth in the Rockton, a.k.a., Casey Duncan, thriller series revolves around Deputy Casey Duncan “Butler”, a homicide detective fleeing her own murderous past, to a town — and its population — that doesn’t exist.

My Take

Last year, 2019, seems to have been my year to miss installments in various series. Seems I missed #4, Watcher in the Woods. I really hate that.

It’s a unique experience in Rockton, having a baby around. Heck, Rockton doesn’t even allow children! So it’s a trick-and-a-half for Casey and Eric to figure out formula and diapers! And we hear all about it from Casey’s perspective with that first person protagonist point-of-view, as she tries to coordinate big-city investigation techniques with the primitive cultures of the Yukon. No, I ain’t talkin’ about native peoples. I’m talking about people who left civilization to live off the land.

It’s a horrendous slide from what we see as proper behavior, although it is interesting what different standards apply to the different “peoples” of First Settlement, Second Settlement, independents, and hostiles. Rape and pedophilia are okay in some and not in others. It’s a behavior that starts in…well, no, it started before Rockton. With people who were either escaping wrong or who did wrong. The town began as a temporary refuge for people needing asylum. Then greed reared up amongst its founders, and it soon became a pay-to-play-to-escape for the desperate. It’s what I’d’ve thought was a somewhat primitive existence — no Internet! — but then we meet these others. Phew.

Armstrong keeps the story humming along as she drops tidbits about the older Daltons and Eric’s birth parents. There’s a fascinating revelation from Maryanne about why the hostiles are as they are, with Maryanne revealing her past, who was in her quartet when they left Rockton, and why she devolved. That speculation about knowing how to work with plants makes perfect sense. And certainly increases my belief that a greed for power drives those hostiles. Well, the shamans at least. Eric’s right. They are a cult!

One of the darker subthemes is how all the men — Rockton, settlers, and hostiles — view women. Jesus. Then Eric provides an alternative perspective when he’s the one being pursued. Yeah. Not so great when the “shoe” is on the other foot, is it? There’s also the anti-gay sentiments expressed by those who profess to be all about nature. Sure, it’s possible for people to learn to be decent, although he goes a bit far at the end. In a positive sort of way. It’s his wife who reveals a somewhat better character. But. I don’t care if a significant other becomes interested in someone other than their partner, you don’t cheat. I don’t care which sex you’re interested in, you just don’t.

Yet another subtheme finds Casey and Eric wondering about children with Armstrong popping in Eric’s and Casey’s thoughts about will they/won’t they. It is a nice example of couples communication. More tidbits are the foreshadowing hints Armstrong drops about future conflicts with the settlements, with the hostiles.

See, see…it is a good idea to learn as much as you can, lol. Casey is living proof of the benefit of being a keener. Up in the Yukon, she has to be a crime-scene tech, ballistics expert, coroner, arson investigator, forensic anthropologist, and more. It’s still a good thing she has Eric along to help temper that big city process. The story does find Casey and Eric being led down a weedy path by everybody! And it finally makes sense at the end with what Felicity says. But, jesus…

LOL, Isabel reckons Phil was worth the chase. When it comes to Jen sliding out from under the babysitting, well, part of me wants to laugh, but it’s Jen versus Casey.

Oh, yeah, that analogy Eric makes about facing your past using a suitcase as a metaphor for your “baggage” is priceless, lol.

Cherise is something else. Okay, sure, she’s a product of her patriarchal environment, and as a strong individual, it’s easy enough for her to take charge. Only, her upbringing colors what she sees as being the best approach to life.

Well, yeah, I can see where one wouldn’t want a Newfie climbing onto the furniture or into bed…lol, and I can see where training her to want to cuddle on the floor can be a negative in a wintry landscape.

Damn, this investigation is so tricky with plenty of action and primarily culture-driven. It was a little slow with all those pathways Casey and Eric keep being “sent down”, but it’s having to be so careful in such a primitive place where the law is what you make it.

Ooh, mink socks… And that dinner menu Casey tells us about…yum!

The Story

Every season in Rockton seems to bring a new challenge. At least that’s what Detective Casey Duncan has felt since she decided to call this place home. Between all the secretive residents, the sometimes-hostile settlers outside, and the surrounding wilderness, there’s always something to worry about.

While on a much needed camping vacation with her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, Casey hears a baby crying in the woods. The sound leads them to a tragic scene: a woman buried under the snow, murdered, a baby still alive in her arms.

A town that doesn’t let anyone in under the age of eighteen, Rockton must take care of its youngest resident yet while solving another murder and finding out where the baby came from — and whether she’s better off where she is.

The Characters

Deputy Casey Duncan “Butler”, a former homicide detective, has been in Rockton for sixteen months. Her parents are Canadian — he’s Scottish, she’s Asian — and require perfection of their children. April is Casey’s autistic neurosurgeon/neuroscientist sister who is now their town doctor. Storm is Casey’s Newfoundland dog (A Darkness Absolute, 2).

Sheriff Eric Dalton has a bumpy past, kidnapped from his parents by a former Rockton sheriff, Gene Dalton and his wife, Katherine. Dalton’s birth parents — Steve and Amy O’Keefe — had been independents. Jacob is Eric’s brother and still lives in the forest.

Rockton is…
…a very small town that doesn’t exist for people who need to disappear. No spouses. No children allowed. Now filled with criminals, it’s no surprise that the murder rate is so high. Phil is the current representative of the board. Turns out he’s competent as town manager. Will Anders is another deputy, premed in college before he enlisted in the army as a medic, although he got put in with the MPs.

Raoul is a seven-month-old wolf-Australian shepherd cross who lives with Dr Mathias, the town butcher who used to be a psychiatrist specializing in psychopathy and sociopathy. Casey speculates that Mathias might be more of an expert than she’d like confirmed. Isabel Radcliffe, a former psychologist, runs the brothel-Wild-West-looking bar, the Roc. It does have non-brothel hours so the women residents are comfortable coming in for a beer. The other bar, the Red Lion, is stuffier. Petra, Casey’s former best friend, had been special ops first, then a comic-book artist, then spy and assassin for her grandmother, Émilie (one of the town’s early residents and a current board member); Petra now works part-time at the general store.

Jen, a former primary school teacher and midwife, is a major pain and a bully. Isn’t she ever gonna get kicked out? Nicole is out on a hunting trip with Jacob. Kenny is the local carpenter who is still on crutches. Sebastian, a diagnosed sociopath who murdered his parents at age eleven, is the youngest and most dangerous resident. Abbygail, City of the Lost, 1, was why Casey first came to Rockton. Oliver Brady had been a serial killer (This Fallen Prey, 3).

Tyrone Cypher, a hit man in his previous life, had been a Rockton sheriff (before the Daltons). Now he’s retired to a life in the forest with a cabin he “inherited” when its former owner, Silas Cox, was killed. Ty has a daughter, a lawyer in Hawaii, who has twins.

When the time of some of these “citizens” ran out (of if they disagreed with changing Rockton priorities), they chose not to leave the territory and became settlers or hostiles, a.k.a., wild people, who reverted to something really primitive. Part of which is that explanation of winter babies.

The Settlements are…
…for those settlers who chose to live in a community. The First Settlement was founded in the sixties and is led by Edwin, one of the original Rockton residents and a former lawyer who speaks Mandarin. Jamie is a six-year-old who shouldn’t have whined about playing in the snow. Felicity is Edwin’s granddaughter and a future leader. Sidra is Felicity’s best friend. Angus wants Felicity; Harper is/had been Angus’ sister who got out (This Fallen Prey).

The Second Settlement is more in the hippie peace-and-love style, although gays need not apply. They’re more nomadic and uninterested in any outside contact. Myra is their leader. Tomas, a former truck driver, and his brother had been in Rockton. Tomas does fine leatherwork, and his wife, Nancy, decorates it. Becky and Miles are their children. Lane is Tomas’ nephew. Baptiste ran with his chosen woman, and they had a child, Summer.

Maryanne, a former biologist and professor, had been a Rockton resident and a hostile who is now clawing her way out. Dan, a doctor, and Lora were part of her group.

Ellen is another hostile who escaped. “Abby” is the baby Casey found. Brent had been a hermit with a nice cave system (This Fallen Prey).

The traders have…
…no honor, and I can see why no one likes them. Owen is slow-thinking with sex on the brain; these days he’s dominated by his partner, Cherise. Leila is Cherise’s middle sister; Missy is the shy, youngest sister.

Blaine Sartori, a mobster’s kid, and Casey’s former friend, Diana, are some of the reasons Casey ended up in Rockton (City of the Lost). Val had been the previous council rep in Rockton.

The Cover and Title

The cover is the yellow-greens of the forest as dawn is breaking, a hint of blue at the top. The focus is a blood-red blanket, crumpled and draped over a fallen log lying on this slope of forest. Tall tree trunks, mostly bare of leaves, are the background. All the text is white with the title in the top half of the cover and the series info just below it. The author’s name is beneath the blanket with an info blurb beneath that.

The title is focused on the baby, left Alone in the Wild.

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