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.

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