I’ve been in a bit of a book rut lately. I had such high hopes for the past few novels I’ve read, but they were all disappointing. I needed something reliable to give me a win.
A few months ago, I ran across Loreth Anne White’s In the Dark. I devoured the fast-paced thriller in a couple of days, and it left me eager to read more of her work. In the Barren Ground has rave reviews on Goodreads, so I thought it might be just what I needed.
I was wrong.
In the Barren Ground is the story of rookie Mountie Tana Larsson, assigned to the small town of Twin Rivers in the Northwest Territories, just south of the Arctic Circle. Tana is supposed to be one of three officers in town, but the sunless winter days and sunny summer nights keep driving officers insane, leaving Tana the only police presence for thousands of square miles. Alone in a new town, friendless, with no family, no organizational support, and 5 months pregnant, Tana discovers an animal mauling isn’t as simple as it seems. She begins to suspect a serial killer is hunting women and covering it up as predation. Can she catch the killer before becoming a victim?
I’m not really a huge fan of characters with haunted pasts, but I love mysteries in isolated settings. Nature, in particular, is a rich backdrop for any kind of murder mystery. But this book dragged and was painfully repetitious. A good 30% of the book could have been trimmed without hurting the story. I almost gave up so many times but I really wanted to know who the killer was. By the 60% point, I started skimming whenever the author retread known territory. The book also suffers from genre confusion. It’s definitely a murder mystery suspense thriller, but there’s a weird romance angle. Most books have a romantic subplot, the problem is how the author wrote this one. There’s a lot of swelling and tingling and “oh I can’t because I’ve made so many romantic mistakes in the past”. It reads like a romance novel, not a mystery romance subplot. The shift in tone is very confusing.
The book isn’t all bad. White is a great writer; the characters are well-developed and the location descriptions are so detailed I could clearly picture the scenes. I learned about the Canadian diamond industry and the indigenous people of the Northwest Territories. And I love that I wasn’t sure who the murderer was.
If you like serial killer mysteries and don’t mind repetition, check it out.