A vicious beast menaces residents of a Montana town in the 1990s in Smith’s (Silent Source, 2016) thriller.
Veterinarian Dieter Harmon has amassed few clients during his three months in the town of Colter, but his friend Molly Schoonover still calls him when rancher Josh Pendleton loses a llama to a possible wolf attack. Livestock kills in the area have recently spiked, but chief park ranger Jack Corey is hesitant to blame the deaths on wolves; he endorses the National Park Service’s plan, initiated two years ago, to re-establish the wolf population in Yellowstone. Later, Dieter stumbles upon the mutilated body of a hiker, and local cops suspect the vet as a possible murderer. Meanwhile, Molly witnesses something horrific while visiting local Joseph Vincent Loudermilk’s farm that gives her reason to fear for one of the women living there. After that woman runs away, Molly searches for her. At the same time, Dieter, Josh, and Amy Little Bear (the nanny to Dieter’s two kids and a pilot) set out to prove the existence of a killer wolf and, if necessary, track it down. Smith peppers his story with chilling scenes of a quick and tenacious animal on the loose. The human characters, meanwhile, are exhaustively developed as the story alternates between Dieter, Molly, and Jack, among others. There are hints of other mysteries (such as the unsolved murder of Dieter’s wife) as well as bits of comedy, as when Dieter and Josh’s plan to examine a cadaver at the funeral home predictably turns into a fiasco. Smith’s writing is full of evocative language, such as when a deadly assault lasts “a brief eternity” and a geyser’s steam vanishes in “spirit-like wisps.” Readers will easily deduce what exactly is killing people and livestock, but Smith wisely focuses on the urgent need to stop the beast rather than on a prolonged elucidation of it.
A creature feature that earns its suspense by rigorously developing its characters.