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The Wolf Wants In


The Wolf Wants In

Laura McHugh is carving out a nice niche for herself. Setting her novels in the middle of the country, an area often referred to as America's Heartland, is a wise choice. Most authors will tell fledgling writers to write what they know. McHugh has taken that advice to heart as her latest novel, THE WOLF WANTS IN, is set in the rural town of Blackwater, Kansas, not far from her own home in Missouri. Blackwater is the type of place where you know each and every resident by name, along with their family histories and whatever bits of gossip have been attached to them. You would think that such a town would be without any secrets, but you would be sadly mistaken, as McHugh is about to show us.

Our protagonist is Sadie Keller, a young woman whose mission is to find out why her brother, Shane, died unexpectedly. Blackwater not only has its secrets, it is also ravaged by the current opioid crisis. It is unfortunate that the law must look at each investigation into the senseless death of a young person as being a potential drug-related incident. Sadie seeks out the investigator of Shane's passing, Detective Kendrick, who is unable to tell her much as the autopsy into why the death of a perfectly healthy 36-year-old man occurred is a mystery that only modern science will be able to answer.

"McHugh has written yet another first-rate literary thriller that is deeply atmospheric and driven forward by characters so real they practically jump off the pages and into your psyche."

What keeps this mystery brimming right up until the last few chapters is that McHugh has opted to put the narrative into the hands of two different narrators. Sadie's is taking place in the book’s present, while the other narrator, an 18-year-old woman named Henley, begins four months prior to the current action.

Henley is a vibrant and interesting character, which called to mind the young heroine Jennifer Lawrence played in Winter's Bone. Sadie, meanwhile, is left to sift through the pieces of Shane's life, looking for anything that might lead her to the answer behind his death. At one point, she finds artwork from Shane that made his art teacher quip: “You are full of surprises.” That is an understatement, based on a new development that might be tied to his passing. A skull and other various bones are found in the woods, possibly belonging to some residents that had been deemed missing. Could Shane have had a dark side and been involved in the deaths of the owners of these bones?

While Sadie's grief over her brother is surrounding her like a crypt, Henley is facing her own challenges. She has an obsessive boyfriend, Jason, who comes from one of the more popular families in town. The problem is that Henley has dreams of a life far away from Blackwater that does not include Jason. Henley is now of an age when she is learning the truth about her own immediate and extended family, and not everything is pleasant. Rather than go to college, her family would have her care for one of her elderly relatives who has a sketchy past. As Henley's narrative draws closer to Sadie's, we begin to see that some of the relationships and characters that make up her inner circle may hold the key to Shane's death.

Things come to a head as the tales converge, and we see both Sadie and Henley at Shane's funeral. The story will begin spiraling after that right down to the stunning conclusion. At one point towards the end of the book, we learn where its unique title comes from: “ was the same for everyone when the wolf was at the door wanting in. You had to hope that you were ready, that what you had built was sufficient to withstand the threat.... But a big brick house was worthless if the wolf was already inside...”

McHugh has written yet another first-rate literary thriller that is deeply atmospheric and driven forward by characters so real they practically jump off the pages and into your psyche. You will not soon forget THE WOLF WANTS IN, which is one of the best character-focused stories I've read this year.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 6, 2019

The Wolf Wants In
by Laura McHugh