Book Review: A Solitude of Wolverines by Alice Henderson
By Ray PalenNovember 2, 2020
To begin with, the debut novel from author Alice Henderson probably has the coolest title I’ve seen in a long time—A Solitude of Wolverines. At one point early in the novel, a character asks the protagonist, biologist Dr. Alex Carter: ‘So what is a group of wolverines called, anyway? I mean, there’s a pride of lions, a pod of whales, a herd of deer. What is it for a wolverine?’ The response from Alex is: ‘I don’t think there is a group name. They’re so solitary. How about a solitude of wolverines?’
This not only provides the impetus for the novel’s title but also reflects on Alex Carter herself. She far prefers working alone and being out in the wilderness than being confined to a desk job or one at the zoo. This part of her personality has caused a lot of friction between her and long-time boyfriend, Brad, and eventually led to their break-up after 8 years. At the beginning of the novel, Alex is living and working in Boston where she had followed Brad for a legal opportunity he had. She is not happy or challenged there and finds herself doing things like participating in a dedication ceremony at a local wetlands preserve.
The ceremony, however, goes awry in a very unexpected way. Just as Alex is being interviewed on-stage a crazed shooter arrives claiming the wetlands preserve ruined him by stopping the development he was supposed to be working on at the same location. As he takes fire one of his victims is the interviewer while Alex runs for cover. The shooter is hit in the arm but this is not enough to prevent him from reloading. Thankfully, he is taken down with a headshot before he can fire on Alex.
While Alex is sitting in her apartment still badly shaken from these events she gets a phone call which proves to be very ironic. Dr. Phillip Brightwell, who had been a champion of her work at Berkeley, has an opportunity for her to study wolverines at the site of an old ski resort in Montana. Of course, Alex jumps at the opportunity and relishes the chance to be with animals in a solitary and wide-open location. She arrives in Montana and the woman who picks her up at the airport warns her of the various wildlife, supernatural presences at the abandoned ski resort, and even Sasquatch sightings. Her regional coordinator, Ben, is there to meet her to show her the set-up but then must head right out, leaving shortly after.
The local town of Bitterroot is not very accommodating to the presence of Alex or the work she is doing on the mountain. She is nearly run off the road at one point and also finds a note left under her windshield wiper that read: ‘You’re not welcome here. Leave while you still can.’ Alex bears up and throws herself into her wolverine studies. One day, as she is traveling up the mountain to where she has her wolverine hair-traps set up she finds a badly injured man, without any shoes on, running up the mountain. She asks him to stay put as she gets help, but upon returning with the local Sheriff and company they find no injured man anywhere.
A string of odd things begins to happen on the mountain and at the resort, including an unexpected visit by her ex-boyfriend in a lame final attempt at reconciliation. The suspense really kicks into high gear when, on the first snowy night of the season, Alex finds herself trapped on the mountain and being chased by a group of unknown, armed men. Alice Henderson at this point takes what might have been the first animal-activist/naturalist thriller I can recall and combines chills, thrills, and heart right up through the breathless finale. I look forward to the next Alex Carter novel!