A Sharp Solitude is Christine Carbo’s fourth novel. All of the books have been set in and around Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of Montana, and to my mind, this one is her best yet.
The book opens in Florida with a tragedy that would forever scar the life of Reeve Landon, who is one of the two main protagonists in the novel. Reeve ultimately winds up in Montana, working in the wilderness with his chocolate lab, McKay, for the University of Montana’s detection-canine research program. Essentially, McKay sniffs out the scat of bears and other wild creatures. Reeve then bags it up, labels it, and sends it to be analyzed by researchers who will extract the animals’ DNA and thus expand their knowledge of the wildlife living in the area.
Reeve lives alone with McKay in an isolated cabin and prefers the company of his dog to most people. The exception is his young daughter, Emily, who lives most of the time with her mother in Kalispell, a few miles away. Reeve and Emily’s mother were together only briefly, but they both love the little girl and share custody.
Out in the woods, Reeve and McKay almost always work alone, which is exactly what Reeve prefers. But late one fall, Reeve’s boss persuades him to allow a journalist named Anne Marie Johnson to accompany him and McKay. Anne Marie is writing an article for a magazine on the university’s detection-canine research program, and Reeve’s boss convinces him that the publicity would be good for the program.
Anne Marie spends a long day with Reeve and McKay, working through very difficult, mountainous terrain. Hours later, she turns up shot to death. Reeve was the last person to be seen with her and the local police bring him in for questioning. It’s apparent early on that they have convinced themselves that Reeve is guilty of Anne Marie’s murder.
Enter FBI agent Ali Paige, who claims an interest in the case because the murder happened close to Glacier National Park, which would have put the case in the FBI’s jurisdiction. More to the point, although most people don’t know it, she is Reeve Landon’s former girlfriend and the mother of his daughter. Like Reeve, Ali had a troubled past. She believes that Reeve could not be guilty of murder and, naturally, she does not want Emily to lose her father and to be branded as the daughter of a killer. In consequence, Ali begins working the case, even though she has no real jurisdiction and no authorization, and even though doing so could have grave consequences for her career.
Carbo excels at creating a sense of place. As these characters make their way along, the reader feels as though he or she is moving side by side along with them in this rugged, beautiful, and often treacherous environment. The scenes with Reeve out in the wilderness are alone worth the price of the book and will resonate especially with anyone who has been lucky enough to visit this part of the country.
The author is also very good at writing damaged characters, and both Reeve and Ali are expertly drawn. The story is told in alternating chapters first from one point of view and then the other, and by the time the book is over the reader knows these characters intimately. The story moves briskly and becomes increasingly gripping, so that by the end of the novel, the tension has built to a fever pitch and it’s virtually impossible to put it down. Readers who haven’t yet discovered this series are in for a treat, and A Sharp Solitudewould be an excellent place to start. 4.5 stars.