“The Last Woman in the Forest” (Berkley), by Diane Les Becquets
Diane Les Becquets succinctly melds an adventure story, a look at conservation and a coming-of-age tale in a suspense-filled plot about the hunt for a serial killer in “The Last Woman in the Forest.”
Marian Engstrom is a self-admitted “conservation gypsy,” moving from one nature study to the next in her quest to save the environment. But the 26-year-old may have finally found her calling when she joins a study group working with rescue dogs to help track and protect endangered wildlife. Her first assignment takes her to northern Alberta where she joins a small but committed group of fellow conservationists who are around her age and bonded by their love of dogs and the great outdoors.
Their leader and mentor is the charming and captivating Tate Mathias whose seductive tales about his adventures and the thrill of being one with nature soon has Marian falling in love with him. Tate is Marian’s first love and she is easily manipulated by him. But while she is on another assignment, Tate is killed by a bear. Grief-stricken Marian can barely function but slowly begins to wonder about how real her relationship was with Tate, especially when his sister tells her that his stories about his family and growing up weren’t true, nor was his claim that he found the victim of a serial killer. As she begins to wonder if Tate wasn’t the murderer of four women, Marian reaches out to Nick Shepard, a psychologist and former forensic profiler who worked on the still-unsolved serial killer case. Slowly, the two piece together bits of evidence to prove — or disprove — Tate’s true nature and find links to the four women.
Les Becquets elegantly weaves in an evocative story about the wildlife study into a strong look at the characters whose life’s blood is being a part of nature. Each of them, including Marian, are loners who keep their emotions in check and are only fully alive in the outdoors, which Les Becquets describes in beautiful detail. Rescue dog training and survival techniques add authenticity to the story.
Looking into Tate’s past, Marian worries about how she could have fallen in love with a killer and wonders if Tate was grooming her to be his next victim.
“The Last Woman in the Forest” offers a stunning view of the harshness of nature and the brutality of human nature.
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