Following her first two Glacier Park novels, Mortal Fall and The Wild Inside, Christine Carbo returns with The Weight of Night. The third book in the series finds the national park under siege from wildfires that are burning largely out of control in several sections of the park. Dense smoke hangs heavily over the park and the surrounding countryside, making it difficult to breathe. The sun has largely disappeared from view, and the fires themselves are ravaging the forests, which are tinder-dry as the result of a prolonged drought. People are being evacuated, and firefighters are trying desperately to save their homes and livestock.
As firefighters dig a break in front of an oncoming fire, one of the fire crew members uncovers the bones of a body which had been buried in a shallow grave. Park police officer Monty Harris arrives to investigate, but with the fire bearing down on the gravesite, there's simply no time to wait for a forensics team to arrive and properly unearth the body. Harris thus turns to Gretchen Larson, a crime scene investigator for the Flathead County Sheriff's office. Larson insists that she is not properly trained for such a situation, but with no other alternative, she unearths as much of the skeleton as time and the raging fire will allow.
Monty and Gretchen must now attempt to identify the body, but at virtually the same time the body is discovered, a child goes missing from a park campground. It's possible that the young boy simply wandered away and got lost in the woods, in which case he's not only in danger from exposure, starvation, drowning, falling and breaking a limb, getting eaten by a bear, and all of the other hazards that might befall a child in such a situation, but in this case, there's also the fire danger to consider. In the alternative, of course, it's possible that someone may have abducted the boy, in which case he could be facing an entirely different set of dangers. In either event, though, it's imperative that the child be found ASAP.
Ultimately, it will be Monty's responsibility to try to find the missing child, while Gretchen attempts to identify the body that's been unearthed. The story is then told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of each of the two protagonists. Monty and Gretchen both have demons of their own to contend with, which will impinge on their investigations and so, as in the case of her first two books, Carbo has combined a compelling psychological story with a tense criminal investigation that will keep readers turning the pages at a brisk pace.
As in the first two books, Carbo also excels at describing the setting. Glacier National Park is one of the most scenic places in the entire country, if not the world, and she describes it beautifully. She also captures very well the fires that threaten both the park itself and the characters in the novel. A couple of summers ago, there was a horrible fire season in the park and in the surrounding area, and Carbo captures the effects of the fires perfectly. Reading the book immediately took me back to that summer, standing out on the deck in the thick smoke, with the fire ash falling out of the sky, wondering if there would be any real relief before the snow began falling in September. As I'm packing to return to the Flathead for the summer, I'm very much hoping that I won't ever have to experience a scene like that again outside the pages of this very fine book.