A grim, moving thriller from the prolific Poyer (The Only Thing to Fear, 1995, etc.), who here returns to the aptly named Hemlock County. Hemlock, in a forgotten corner of Pennsylvania, is sinking back into wilderness after a century of rapacious exploitation. The coal, oil, and gas deposits that once fueled the economy are gone, leaving poisoned landscapes and a dwindling, embittered population. Among them is W.T. ``Racks'' Halvorsen, a legendary hunter. In Poyer's earlier Hemlock County novel, Winter in the Heart (1993), the elderly Halvorsen figured as one of a group who turned to violence to stop a local businessman from illegally dumping quantities of toxic waste in the county. This time out, Halvorsen is on his own as he deals with an equally lethal conspiracy. Walking in the woods, he comes upon two men methodically beating a third to death. They flee with the body, but Halvorsen, angered by what he has seen, looking for anything that will dissolve some of the grief he still feels for his wife's death three years ago, tries to track them down. His search leads him into the heart of a supposedly uninhabited wilderness area, where he finds a kidnapped girl and an ambitious plot to steal quantities of natural gas. Rescuing the girl, he flees deeper into the wilderness to elude the killers. Poyer hits his stride with Halvorsen's ingenious and convincing use of wilderness skills to outwit his pursuers in a long midwinter duel that's tense, vivid, and believable. Both Halvorsen and the resilient girl he has rescued are complex, convincing figures. And the outcome is satisfying without seeming either forced or melodramatic. A subtle, highly original blend of eco-thriller and novel of character. Halvorsen, bitter, almost overcome by age and regret, very much a man of an earlier time, lingers in the mind.
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