LONE WOLF is the third of Linwood Barclay's Zack Walker novels, a series that with each new entry has become incrementally darker and exponentially better. It sets a high-water mark, not only for Barclay professionally but also for the mystery genre. Informed with a quiet excellence of execution, LONE WOLF is one of the best written mystery novels of 2006, no mean feat in a year marked by the blessing of a plurality of wondrous, well-crafted works.
Zack Walker, Barclay's Everyman protagonist, is a reporter, a well-intended worrywart whose heroism is confined primarily to doing the right thing for his family at all times, as it should be. While this admirable quality is hardly the stuff of adventurous derring-do, it causes Walker to function, more often than not, as a foible for or an observer of the dangerous and the intriguing while remaining a fish out of water with respect to the proceedings. Indeed, as Sarah, Walker's long-suffering wife, reminds him near the end of LONE WOLF, "This isn't our life." Just so; this quality makes Walker an identifiable character with the great majority of the readership, even as he stumbles into mysteries and dangers both great and small.
LONE WOLF begins with Walker receiving the bad news that his father, the owner and year-long resident of a fishing camp, may have been eaten by a bear. Walker, with understanding trepidation, leaves for the site, feeling somewhat remorseful about his relationship with his father while dreading what he will find upon his arrival at journey's end. However, Walker discovers that there is much more, and less, going on at the camp than he had anticipated. When a second body is discovered, and a supply of fertilizer is stolen, it becomes apparent that the quiet, heretofore idyllic, setting of the fishing camp is about to be changed forever.
Walker erroneously appears to be a somewhat limited character who would require an improbable jump of the shark to keep things interesting. But in the course of three novels Barclay has managed to invoke a subtle change of background in each --- from urban to suburban to, in LONE WOLF, a rural setting that is extremely true to life. The backdrop and circumstances permit Walker to find out some things about his father, and about himself. They haven't been close, in part because they are so much alike. As Walker begins, with some reluctance, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the mysterious goings-on around the camp, once again he turns to Lawrence Jones, his quietly capable and engaging friend, for assistance --- and as LONE WOLF speeds toward its cataclysmic conclusion, Walker finds that he will need all the help he can get.
LONE WOLF has it all --- three mysteries for the price of one; engaging, believable characters; a compelling story; and an excerpt from STONE RAIN, the next Zack Walker novel. If this advance preview is any indication, 2007 will be an even better year for Barclay than 2006. For now, however, LONE WOLF gives us much to enjoy. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 30, 2010