Elka has always done better in the woods, on her own, than in the middle of civilization. She didn’t get on with her nana when she was left there by her parents before they went north. Nana and people just had so many rules that Elka didn’t understand that it was almost a relief to be taken in by Trapper when she was seven. Before you get too cozy with this story of rough man and pseudo-daughter bonding, Beth Lewis has a bombshell to drop in the first chapters of The Wolf Road. The gruff Trapper has a dark secret: he’s a cannibal.
Elka’s world implodes one summer day. She’s been living with Trapper for about ten years when she has to make a trip into town by herself for the first time. In town, she meets Magistrate Lyon. Lyon is hunting Trapper, also known as Kreagar Hallet, who she knows killed her son and several women over the years. Lyon follows Elka back to Trapper’s cabin where they find indisputable evidence of his murderous hobby. After Lyon and her men burn the cabin down, Elka lights out north with a vague plan to find her missing parents, not get arrested, and not get killed by Hallet.
What follows is a tense, slow-burning chance all across a devastated, devolved British Columbia and Yukon Territory. Elka, after spending years mastering woodcraft, has to learn the hard way about who to trust and who to run from as fast as her legs can carry her.
The Wolf Road is one of the best tales of survival and justice I’ve read in a while. What sets it apart from similar books and what really won me over was the issue of Elka’s complicity. She doesn’t remember anything about Trapper’s crimes. For a long time, she thinks of Trapper as another of Kreagar’s victims. But as time goes on, memories of things Elka has repressed start to surface. Elka torments herself by worrying about what she did that she isn’t remembering and how much blame she bears for being Kreagar’s accomplice. The Wolf Road is not True Grit, though it bears some similarity to that novel’s setting and vibe. It’s more like The Reapers Are the Angels in that no one is truly innocent here. It’s just that some people are more guilty than others.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 5 July 2016.