Monday, December 9, 2013

The Nature of Things


In Ellen Wilson’s novel The Nature of Things, she does a great job of gathering all of the elements of a good mystery together in a way that is entertaining and doesn’t let up until the last page. The book begins with environmental officer Clare McElroy investigating a black bear attack in a campground in Upper Peninsula Michigan. Having spent a lot of time in campgrounds where bears are a nuisance, it was hard for me to keep my feet still as I read the opening chapter of this book. Clare is a gutsy officer who has to contend with disgruntled campers who want to shift the blame for their carelessness after having little enough judgment to feed a bear. This book would make a good movie, and as I read it, I could visualize a younger Jody Foster playing Clare. Not only does Clare come to life on the page, the rest of the characters are equally real -- and there is a wide assortment of them.


There are too many books where the author doesn’t pick a theme, and the result is a hodge-podge of events that don’t hang well together. The theme here is the conflict between what is needed to protect the environment, versus the needs of the people who live in close proximity with the animals. You can also feel the atmosphere of the area where the story unwinds -- the forest, the quant tavern/restaurant where much of the action takes place, and the lake. The characters in this story are a combination of desires, and the conflicting personal flaws that keep them from realizing their goals. There is no melodrama here, but just the right amount of angst to make everything interesting.  


The story is further conflicted when assistant district attorney Pheeny Delmato comes to town to investigate a murder, and the problems of all the characters become entwined. Murder, greed, and suspicion are a good combination -- especially when you throw characters who are conflicted into the mix. If you like mystery, suspense, with just the right amount of romance, you are going to love this book.