The Mountains Wild
The Irish setting and conversations regarding the IRA are the only things that make this average police procedural mystery even mildly unique. Everything else about The Mountains Wild is actually pretty tame.
This story shifts back and forth in time between chapters but for the sake of clarity and brevity I’ll be discussing it in linear form in this review.
Maggie D’arcy’s wild-child cousin Erin was always a runner, regularly moving from town to town, disappearing for weekend trips without advising anyone beforehand, flitting from job to job and man to man on a whim. Her latest adventure has taken her to Ireland and when her roommates there report that she has been missing for several days, responsible, level-headed Maggie is sent to see what happened. She may only be in her early twenties but she has lots of experience searching for her cousin. And quite a bit of luck in finding her.
Not this time. Maggie – and the Garda – hunt hard for Erin but discover no clues as to what happened to her. Maggie returns to New York unable to provide closure to her grieving relatives.
Twenty years pass before the family once again receives a call from Ireland. The officer who handled Erin’s disappearance, Roly Byrne, advises them that another woman has gone missing from the same hiking trail from which Erin vanished. And while they were looking for that lady, they have come across new evidence regarding Erin.
Maggie is now an infamous Long Island detective who played a prominent part in capturing a notorious serial killer. Leaving her daughter Lilly with her ex, she returns to Ireland, anxious to apply her skills to a case that has haunted her close-knit clan for decades. And to once more see the man who had captured her heart years ago.
One of the primary problems with The Mountains Wild is the pacing. The first two thirds of the book are almost painfully plodding and mundane. I realize that real police work is about chasing paperwork, and viewing endless hours of boring video footage, but a book needs to skip those bits and focus on the more adrenaline-fueled moments. That doesn’t happen here.
Adding to the lethargic feel of the plot is the calm, cool character of Maggie. I understood why she wasn’t wildly emotional over the new evidence in Erin’s case since she’s had a long time to resolve her feelings. However, she processes everything in such an intellectual manner – except for the last few chapters – that she comes across as extremely bland and overly cerebral. Even when she once more encounters her long lost love, Conor, their meeting is not passionate but reminds me more of a husband and wife of many years being reunited after a few hours apart. Conor could have been interesting but that potential is never realized. Part of that is because he is meant to be a suspect in Erin’s disappearance, but the air of mystery and menace he is meant to convey comes across more as middle-aged angst about the kind of drama that infests most ordinary lives.
Secondary character Roly, the primary detective on the case, fares a bit better. He’s funny and clever and hardworking, and seems more fully realized than either Maggie or Conor. He’s a great friend and terrific sleuth. Detective Garda Katya Grzeskiewica, commonly known as Griz, Roly’s partner in solving crime, was another whose personality leapt off the page, bringing some much needed color to what felt like a black and white sketch of a mystery.
The Irish scenery is used sparingly but effectively, adding another bit of color to the monochromatic storyline. The information regarding the prevalence of the IRA and the troubles that created for the Garda in the nineties was interesting as well.
We receive flashback moments that give us the background of Maggie and Connor’s romance as well as the history of Erin and Maggie’s complicated relationship. They provide some interesting insights into Maggie’s feelings about her difficult cousin and why exactly that cousin was so difficult.
The book does pick up pace as it comes to a close. That was nice but first, it felt too little too late and second, I found the ultimate denouement hard to accept. There was a lot to unpack in what had occurred, why it happened and how that would affect the current relationships of the the characters together and the author doesn’t really explore of any of that. We are told in a confession what the villain was trying to accomplish and that’s pretty much the end. It is meant to tie things up rather neatly, but instead it left me with tons of questions on the effect this would ultimately have on the surviving characters’ lives.
The Mountains Wild, with its tame beginning and middle portions and wildly unbelievable ending, is a difficult book to grade. The prose is smooth and the resolution of the mystery is ultimately laid out clearly for the reader. But while those points make it an easy read, they don’t make it a good one. Given the strength of the mystery/thriller market right now, I would recommend giving this book a pass.