Title: Wildfire Season
Author: Duncan Ralston
Release date: June 1st, 2016
I’ve read a number of Ralston’s works over the years and continue to dive into his deeper back catalog. ‘Wildfire’ was one that I always had on my radar but for whatever reason just didn’t get to it. Recently, when I decided to read a quartet of Canadians (as my TBR had it lined up as though it was fate) I simply had ‘Ralston’ in my list. So, I flipped a coin and ‘Wildfire’ beat ‘The Method.’
Going in, I knew this was a quicker/shorter read than some of his more recent work (think ‘Ghostland’ and ‘Afterlife’) but knowing how well Ralston writes, I knew the story would still be filled to the brim with story.
What I liked: The story is set in remote Alaska. Bo and her almost-teenager son, Caleb live a simply, quiet existence. Off-the-grid and out of people’s mouths, as many in that part of the world prefer. But as dark fiction goes, a fateful trip into town turns their worlds upside down. During the wolf cull, Bo brings two wolves in that she’s hunted to get paid some cash and buy some groceries. It’s here that she has a run in with a world famous pop singer, one Bo has no idea who she is, but Rainey Layne is there protesting the cull and decides to set her sights on Bo.
From here, Ralston crafts a straight-forward thriller where we see the lengths Bo will go to not only keep her and Caleb safe, but to also make sure who she was in her previous life never sees the light of day.
I really enjoyed the way the three interacted as the story went on. Rainey who continued to try and use her fame and fortune to persuade Caleb in situations. Bo who was furious and wanted to kill Rainey but couldn’t knowing the police would inevitably discover the truth. And Caleb, who understood that he was all his mother had, even if it meant he didn’t get to live the life he longed for.
Duncan managed to get the tension between them just right, which at times felt like it was on the precipice of toppling, but that walking-the-line and pushing it to the max ultimately heightened the anxiety each of the three had within that small shack.
What I didn’t like: Maybe it’s my upbringing or my love of nature and living through almost two decades of forest fire season, but I struggled to believe a raging wildfire was burning in Alaska closer to October. It is possible, but it became a bit of a false-start. I was expecting the fire to rage around the people and force them to make decisions and try and survive, but ultimately it became metaphorical and had limited influence on the larger story.
Why you should buy this: For a story that was roughly 160 pages long, Ralston delivers a wallop and never really takes his foot off the peddle. We get thrown into a unique situation and get to see a chess game play out while knowing, ultimately, that when ‘checkmate’ is called, the outcome will be dire for all involved.