Book Review: THE WOLF WANTS IN, a tragic mystery layered with the devastation of the opiod epidemic

The Wolf Wants In
Laura McHugh

Happy publication day to The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh.

In this book, the Keller family–the mother, a survivor of domestic abuse, and two sisters, Sadie and Becca–cannot believe their brother, Shane, died of a heart attack at only thirty-six. Besides a bad back from a lifetime of hard labor, Shane never exhibited any health problems. Sadie also thought Shane’s widow. Crystle, showed too little grief, grandstanding at the funeral while disposing of all of Shane’s possessions only days later. But Detective Lacey Kendrick of small Blackwater, Kansas, already disinclined to investigate a closed case, became overwhelmed when bones were found in the wood that might belong to Macey Calhoun, a child who went missing several months earlier, presumed kidnapped by her father.

Without police support, Sadie pursued her inquiry, finding out that Shane had a life he never shared with his family, one that might provide unwelcome answers. At the same time, Sadie reached out to Macey’s mother, Hannah, who had been an acquaintance when both of their daughters attended the same preschool years earlier.

Henley Pettit’s story begins four months before Shane’s death. Just graduated from high school, her paramount goal is leaving Blackwater. Henley, Crystle’s cousin, has long been oppressed by her family’s criminal legacy. With her last name and prominent Pettit features, everyone in town associates her with her uncle’s drug dealing. As Henley tries to escape, her ties to her family–to her uncles and their illegal activities, to her mother and her drug addiction, and to Jason Sullivan, scion of the wealthiest family in town–prevent her from making the break she is desperate for.

Sadie, unable to let go of her quest for truth, and Henley, unable to leave, both find themselves in life-threatening situations that they can survive by their wits and courage alone.

The Wolf Wants In offers an engrossing and well-written saga of the dark side of a small midwestern town, shows the impact of the opioid crisis on one community, and rolls back the facade of a wealthy family to show the disfunction underneath. Having two timelines heightened the tension which reached a crescendo as they converged, while the ending was satisfying.
I found the characters interesting for the most part, particularly Henley, who had to take over adult duties since her mother was incapable, but still had an underlying naivete that at times endangered her. A social worker, Sadie was compassionate and determined, but she sometimes made very poor decisions, such as going to a bar to talk to Hannah, an addict, about a very important development in her daughter’s case. Shane, though only appearing in flashbacks in Sadie’s timeline, was a sympathetic character who possibly engaged in dastardly deeds–I would have been happy to have seen more of him in the novel. Other characters were less developed, such as Sadie’s grieving mother, or more stereotypical, such as Henley’s big, tough, drug-dealing uncles.

Interestingly, the wolf is also a metaphor in McHugh’s previous book, The Weight of Blood. In that book, the wolf represented an external danger. In this novel, the wolf is already inside the gates, an internal threat that is even harder to detect.

Fans of literary thrillers will definitely want to put The Wolf Wants In on their to-read list. At times tragic, at times eye-opening, it’s a gripping mystery that offers more insight than a standard procedural.

Thanks to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: WE ARE ALL GOOD PEOPLE HERE, two friends embroiled in the movements of the 1960s

White, Susan - We Are All Good People HereWe Are All Good People Here
Susan Rebecca White

In We Are All Good People Here, Eve, a privileged girl from a wealthy Atlanta family, and Daniella, a half-Jewish girl from DC who was raised Unitarian, meet in 1962 when they are assigned as roommates at Belmont College, an all-girls school. Immediately, they become inseparable, and under Daniella’s influence, Eve becomes aware of the injustices inherent in southern society. As the sixties progress, Daniella takes a more traditional path while Eve aligns with a radical group against racial oppression and the Vietnam War.

For years, the two have no contact, Daniella struggling as a young wife and the only female lawyer of an elite Atlanta law firm and Eve on the fringes of society trying to foment revolution, but when Eve finally decides to resurface after a tragedy blamed on her association, she contacts Daniella for help. Again, the women become best friends, but will it last this time?

They both have daughters, Anna and Sarah, in the early seventies who grow up together and are shielded from Eve’s tumultuous past, but a secret long buried insidiously rises, not only to tear the four women apart, but that could threaten the lives of the teenagers.

The book’s premise is certainly appealing, and it does present a vivid picture of the social milieu of the times. Although it provided a rich background for the story, it often overpowered the narrative, feeling like the primary goal of the book was to recount the major milestones of the Civil Rights Movement rather than advance Daniella and Eve’s storyline.

Part II of the book shifts the perspective to the teenage girls, Daniella’s daughter, Sarah, the only character voiced in first person, and Eve’s daughter, Anna. While this section is more story driven, the characters are not as fully developed, especially Anna, so it difficult to become invested in them. This section did explore how a mother’s youthful choices echoed into the present to affect her child and commented on the travails of single working mothers of the period. It also showed how the children of the sixties became part of Reagan’s moral majority.

As mentioned, I wish that the historical background had been more subtly integrated into the novel. Additionally, I found myself desiring that the secondary and tertiary characters be more developed. I was also disappointed that when Daniella found a boyfriend, she devoted all her attention to him, ignoring her friends, and that her daughter repeated the same folly a decade later. There was also one of the most horrific scenes of animal cruelty I’ve seen on the page and that truly was unnecessary.

Though the history often did overwhelm the story, I did enjoy reading about the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement and the impact on a genteel, old-money family when a child became radicalized. It also uncovered some of the fallout when hidden truths come to light.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.