A very private private investigator does everything to get to the bottom of an apparent murder, even when it includes ruining her family.
In her third Leslie Stone outing, Novak (Ordinary Monsters, 2002, etc.) tries to see what else she can do to this ex-cop, ex-mental patient, and soon-to-be ex-wife. Stone was drummed out of the force years ago for a bad shooting and has been having psychological problems ever since, including (but not limited to) severe hallucinations. Until recently, she scratched together work as a private investigator, but that’s mostly dried up now, and she’s mainly just trying to keep her frayed family together. This isn’t easy, as both her girls and Greg, her painfully victim-prone husband, don’t exactly trust her to keep healthy, get a steady job, and act normal. Their lack of trust is validated when she gets swept up, for no good reason other than her own dark curiosity, into a case involving an old homeless man,:James Kendrick, found dead in a nearby amusement park. Despite repeated entreaties from Greg to give up and drop the case, Stone begins hallucinating again and loses whole days obsessing over the minutely detailed drawings and writings left by Kendrick. Although there are gothic oddities aplenty in Stone’s world, it’s in the rather mundane details of her deteriorating life that Novak really excels: the hallucinations, memories of a violent past, hints of ghosts and curses. She takes a scalpel to the way that long-simmering lovers will bait each other into dead-end arguments, laying out the slash-and-burn weaponry of loving hate. And she gives Stone at least one great line, in describing a man she had an affair with as “who the devil wants to be when the devil grows up.”
Still, for the most part, bringing little mystery and less revelation, The Wilderness is a barely engaging story about a less-than-interesting obsessive whose narcissistic selfishness becomes harder to swallow with each chapter.