Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman
Set in a small Minnesota town of Lone Mountain in the late 20th Century, Little Wolves is a novel that successfully weaves many strands of narrative and theme into a supremely cohesive and satisfying whole. One of the reasons I chose this book for review was that it promised tie-ins to Norse mythology and folklore, a very exciting prospect for me. As they are woven into the narratives, they become a seamless part of the story.
A murder happens very early in the book. It is a distressingly familiar and tragically modern tale and at its core is based on a true event. Teenager Seth Fallon has sawed off a shotgun and has dressed in a long coat that hides the gun as he walks to town and murders the local sheriff. Shortly thereafter, Seth is found dead in a cornfield of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot. The only mystery seems to be why he still had copious rounds of ammunition on his body. However, this is not the only mystery for this is a book full of surprises and secrets to be disclosed. Grizz Fallon, Seth’s father, has many questions and in seeking answers he finds deeply rooted evil in the actions of others.
The second central narrative of the book concerns Clara Warren, the pregnant wife of the recently hired Lutheran pastor in the town, a position taken at her urging because of stories told to her by her father. For a time Clara was a substitute English teacher at the local high school and was highly effective in teaching unmotivated students, including Seth, to love Beowulf. It is in this class that Seth develops strong feelings for her and warns her she may be in danger.
Immediately before the murder she stood rooted and silent in her house, not sure why she was not answering the insistent doorbell rung by Seth. She also seeks answers to the questions surrounding Seth’s actions. Would she have been murdered too or could she have stopped him if she had gone to the door? However, equally important to her personally is the eventual discovery of why her father’s stories have brought her to this town, the mystery of her birth, and the strange reaction of the townspeople to her.
This is not a book for the faint hearted. One scene is the stuff of nightmares as revenge is sought in an unimaginably horrible way. However, I feel strongly that in the skilled hands of Maltman, none of the violence was in any way gratuitous.
I wholeheartedly recommend Little Wolves. I finished it with a feeling of deep satisfaction and with the desire to rush out to the library and get Maltman’s first novel, The Night Birds, which I had missed when it first came out. I can think of no better compliment to the author!
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