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The Wildfire Season    by Andrew Pyper order for
Wildfire Season
by Andrew Pyper
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This absorbing, often lyrical, thriller is set in Ross River, Yukon and its environs. Miles McEwan - now the local fire chief - has fled to this small community 'three hundred miles below the Arctic Circle'. It's the end of the road - practically at the end of the earth. Before we meet Miles though, Andrew Pyper shows us a firestarter, whose motivations remain ambiguous till the very end, and the puzzle of whose identity drives the plot. This individual deliberately lights a forest fire that rages throughout the story.

Miles has a premonition, just before the Welcome Inn Lounge's door opens on 'a woman who is barely a memory and a little girl'. Alex is a special needs teacher whom Miles once planned to marry before a wildfire scarred him body and soul. It left him consumed by anger, and with a reputation as a merciless barfighter. Rachel is Alex's - and Miles' - daughter, a precocious five-year-old, who shares her father's capacity for premonitions. Mother and daughter have spent their summers searching for Miles, who left Alex suddenly without even a note.

Métis Margot Lemontagne and 'bitter, irredeemable son of a bitch' Wade Fuerst run a guiding business. Their current client is Jackson Bader, an old, powerful American, who is after a grizzly as his closing act. Bader's wife Elsie tags along, chattering incessantly. Wade Fuerst harbors a deep resentment of Miles, who is so like him in many ways, but has on offer everything that Wade himself wants from life. Another major actor in this developing story is a she-grizzly with two cubs. Pyper shows us her perspective on the dangers of her environment and on man.

The hunting party sets out, Alex and Rachel settle in for a brief visit, the bears make their way through the wilderness, and the fire that started the book (and is also one of the story's main players) takes on a life of its own, consuming all in its path towards Ross River. People die from various causes, and a murderer tracks his prey, already seared by flames. There is mercy from an unexpected source and a kind of redemption for the story's scarred protagonist in a very satisfactory conclusion.

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