Desert Isle Keeper
The Last Woman in the Forest
The Last Woman in the Forest is the latest novel from author Diane Les Becquets, and if you asked me to describe it in a single word, my response would be bone-chilling! It turned out to be exactly the kind of twisty, dark thriller I was hoping it would be, and I blew through it in just over a day.
Marian has finally found a job she loves. She’s never wanted to spend her days cooped up in an office, so working with shelter dogs on various wildlife studies seems to be a perfect fit for her. She spends her days hiking little-used trails with the dogs she loves by her side collecting samples of animal scat, and she finally feels like she’s found her calling. But what if this dream job of Marian’s has actually managed to put her directly in the path of a serial killer, and what if the man suspected of the crimes is none other than the man Marian loves?
Marian and Tate met on her first day on the job, and from that first meeting, Marian was drawn to him in a way she cannot explain. They seemed to click right from the start, and despite the fact that relationships between co-workers was frowned upon, they soon fell in love and began sleeping together. It wasn’t long before Marian began imagining spending the rest of her life with Tate, so when he is killed in a tragic confrontation with a grizzly bear just seven months into their relationship, Marian is shattered.
In the days following Tate’s death, Marian is consumed by memories of the time they spent together. She expects to take comfort from these memories, but she finds herself puzzled by certain inconsistencies in stories Tate has told her. At first, she chalks her bafflement up to grief, but as time passes and she still feels uneasy about certain unanswered questions, she decides to dig deeper into Tate’s past. To this end, she contacts retired forensic investigator Nick Shepherd, who has spent his life tracking down numerous ruthless killers.
Nick is dealing with a medical crisis of his own, but something about Marian speaks to him, and he agrees to help her in whatever way he can. The group of killings dubbed the Stillwater Murders has haunted him for the past several years. The killer has never been caught, a fact Nick views as a personal failure. Perhaps helping Marian discover the truth about who Tate really was will finally bring Nick some much needed peace.
The timeline of events is a little tricky, so you’ll want to pay close attention to the dates given at the start of each chapter. The story opens just after Marian learns of Tate’s death, and we move back and forth in time as Marian recalls key events in her relationship with him. I usually prefer stories told in a more linear fashion, but the somewhat disorganized way this story is told actually worked well for me. It illustrated Marian’s somewhat fragmented state of mind, and I’m not sure a more linear sequence of events would have been nearly as compelling.
Most of our time is spent with Marian, but we’re also given glimpses into the lives of the four victims of the Stillwater murders. Nick has created extensive profiles of each of the womens’ last days, and I enjoyed getting to know a bit more about them. Plus, there are a few chapters told from Nick’s point of view, and this added an extra investigative layer to the story.
If you’re a dog lover, The Last Woman in the Forest is sure to resonate with you. Marian works closely with two dogs in particular, and the book is full of little tidbits about the way they’re trained to work in the wilderness. It serves as a lovely counterpoint to the darker parts of the story.
The pacing of the novel is pretty close to perfect! It’s one of those extremely atmospheric tales that’s perfect for reading on a blustery, stormy night. The author’s ability to ramp up the tension in tiny increments kept me glued to my iPad for hours at a time, making this a book I’m delighted to recommend to lovers of creepy mysteries set in the wilderness.