The Wild Inside is the debut novel by Christine Carbo; it is also the first installment of the Glacier Mystery series, which is something that I did not know when I read the book. The next installments star National Park Service Police Officer Monty Harris who has a supporting role in The Wild Inside. This is a rather interesting book set in an unusual setting.
When a local druggie is found tied to a tree and mauled by a bear in Glacier National Park in Montana, Department of the Interior Agent Ted Systead is assigned to solve the murder. Agent something-something (numbers I didn’t write down), Systead’s agent class investigates murders committed in the nation’s National Parks, and he covers a region spread across the mid-west. Systead digs up as much information as possible on the victim and his known associates, friends, and family, but the investigation drags on for a week with no credible suspects or leads in sight. And the longer Systead remains in Montana and Glacier National Park, the site of his own father’s fatal mauling witnessed by Systead as a teen, the more the agent’s nerves fray.
Complicating the investigation is the pressure Systead is under to clear this case or risk being demoted back to fraud or drug investigations as well as the parallels the case bears to his father’s brutal death. From the moment he’s assigned the case Systead seems to fight an unabating sense of dread and foreboding, and when he arrives in Glacier Park after so many years away, he is immediately set off balance. As the case drags on seemingly indefinitely Systead becomes increasingly undone by his own personal demons connected to both the park and the park’s superintendent, who slandered Systead’s father in the press in order to save face for the park. In addition National Park Superintendent Ford sets Systead’s teeth on edge with his insistence on meddling, controlling the case, and keeping close tabs on the investigation. Conflict also arises from Systead’s and Ford’s cross purpose objectives due to Systead’s prioritization of solving the case while Ford’s priority is preserving the park’s ability to draw tourists and avoiding negative publicity for the park.
This book sucks you into the mystery while cultivating a continuous sense of dread on the part of the reader as Systead’s condition deteriorates. Will he be able to solve the murder? Will he keep his job? You’ll have to read the book to find out.