The Wolf Path
Author: Judith Van Gieson
Narrator: Meredith Mitchell
Publisher/Date: AudioGO, 04/01/13
Length: Approximately 6 hrs 40 mins.
My Rating: 4.25 of 5.0
It's a 104 degree day in Albuquerque when attorney/sleuth Neil Hamel gets a call asking her to go to southern New Mexico to help a wolf advocate who calls himself Juan Sololobo. Juan, who attracts trouble wherever he goes, is visiting the town of Soledad to give an educational program featuring his timber wolf, Sirius. After someone lets Sirius out of his pen, a federal official is murdered and Juan becomes the prime suspect. As Neil defends him she finds herself immersed in a deadly conflict between ranchers and environmentalists over wolf reintroduction. The Wolf Path is Judith Van Gieson's fourth Neil Hamel mystery. Since it was first published to critical acclaim in 1992, Mexican gray wolves have been reintroduced to the Southwest, and there are now several packs free-ranging in Arizona and New Mexico. Wolf advocate Bobbie Holaday, the founder of Preserve Arizona's Wolves (PAWS), updates this edition with an introduction summarizing the progress that has been made. Van Gieson has published eight mysteries featuring Neil Hamel and five with University of New Mexico librarian Claire Reynier.
Neil Hamel is an attorney who likes to conduct her own investigations rather than using a private investigator. She is often called in to handle environmental issues and this time she is asked by a friend (a former almost love interest?) to cover permit issues for a client who is transporting and exhibiting a wild wolf in an educational program. Juan Sololobo, a strong wolf activist tends to attract trouble. He brings along a timber wolf, Sirius, who is not to be considered a pet even though he may be accustomed to humans. Juan has brought Sirius to Solodad, near White Sands, where they are touring the schools and staying on a ranch owned by his ex-wife.
White Sands is being considered as an appropriate location for a relocation program. There are local ranchers and hunters who are strong opponents to the idea of reintroducing the wolf anywhere near their town. A meeting of the supporters and opponents isn’t going well when it is interrupted by a freak hail storm and the discovery that someone has cut the chain that locked Sirius into a secure holding area. Now Juan is desperate to rescue the wolf while there are others arming themselves to hunt it down.
Neil returns home to Albuquerque only to get a call that one of the bureaucrats, a man whom Neil had learned to respect, has been murdered. Juan had attacked the man in a fit of anger fueled by exhaustion and alcohol when he learned that he had locked Sirius up until an investigation could be completed. That makes Juan the prime suspect in the man’s murder.
The murder mystery is a little slow to develop as there is a lot of environmental build up and detail. The author provides fascinating information covering the history of wolves, release programs, free roaming risks and the dilemmas the ranchers face from wild animals. Ranchers also have the opportunity for wildlife smuggling, human smuggling and drug trafficking. Although I didn't necessarily like Neil's methods of investigation, I did like the action and suspense that accompanied the gathering of clues.
Ms. Van Gieson takes a couple of off beat rabbit trails regarding water and sun which are presented in beautiful, prosaic streams of thought. These were odd in a mystery but still enjoyable. I rather enjoyed the slower pace of the story - it made me think of really hot weather when one might tend to move a bit slower. I puzzled a bit over the protagonist’s relationship with her live-in friend and sometimes ‘convenient’ lover, known as “kid.” I think this must be clearer in an earlier book but it didn’t hurt this mystery.
Audio Notes: Meredith Mitchell does a good job with the reading. The voices and accents are authentic and distinguishable. The environmental data is conveyed with good enthusiasm that keeps the reading moving along. I sense that I would prefer this author and her stories in audio as I might struggle with the slowness if I was reading and waiting to get to the murder.