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THE LAST RANGER by Peter Heller


by Peter Heller

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2023
ISBN: 9780593535110
Publisher: Knopf

Challenging times for a ranger in Yellowstone National Park.

Heller draws on an extensive background in adventurous outdoor pursuits and a literary pedigree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to produce this fast-paced, elegantly written slice of the often busy, sometimes-perilous life of a contemporary Yellowstone National Park ranger. As he portrays it, typical duties in the life of ranger Ren Hopper, who lives alone in a rustic cabin in the park, can include everything from arresting an intoxicated driver for striking a bison to saving a heedless family from a dangerously close encounter with a protective mother moose. But at the heart of the story is Ren’s attempt to track down the human predator who’s been poaching the park’s wild wolf population, which had been eradicated for more than seven decades in the 20th century and restored only after deliberate effort. Ren’s pursuit takes on even greater urgency when his friend Hilly, a famed wolf biologist, nearly loses her life after she’s caught in a trap that appears to have been placed solely for the purpose of ensnaring her. The prime suspect is Les Ingraham, a local resident embittered after his shot at a professional football career is derailed by injury, but Ren can’t rule out the possibility that a secretive militialike group that’s hostile to restrictions against hunting on federal land may be involved. Along with evocative descriptions of Yellowstone’s stunning beauty, Heller efficiently creates a small cast of fully realized characters, most notably Ren, who’s still struggling with grief over the death of a mother who introduced him to the natural world before abandoning her family. But as the author displays in a thrilling climactic chase scene, he doesn’t neglect his obligation to bring what at heart is a nature adventure story to a satisfying conclusion.

Life and death in nature are close companions in a fast-moving and lyrical story.