Fear in the Frozen North

The local author of Busy Monsters returns with a thriller set in the Alaskan winter.


Hold the Dark by William Giraldi

Published by Liveright, 208 pages, $25

Wolves, in this book, are symbolic of both the treacherous and the sacred. Medora has lost her 6-year-old son, Bailey, seemingly to a wolf in Alaska. So she hires Core, a man who studies and reveres these animals, to help find him. But Bailey hasn’t been dragged to the wolves’ home in the hills: Core discovers the murdered boy in his mother’s cellar.

Soon Bailey’s father, Vernon, comes home from war, searching for the now missing Medora and boiling with vengeance. Meanwhile, local characters anoint themselves with wolf oils and wear masks as talismans, both to protect themselves and to threaten others. There’s an otherworldly flavor to the story, as in the case of two oddball characters, a vagrant and a hag, who delivered ominous warnings to Medora during her pregnancy. Even before birth, her boy had a dark cloud hanging over his head.

In this near-mythic landscape, people and wolves appear equally dangerous. Friends become enemies. Killings occur in scene after scene. In the dark tundra of the tale, Giraldi’s prose is thick with poetic mystery. The ultimate hidden secret in this book dazzles when finally revealed. And what comes of it almost seems like a sweet dream after the rampages of the characters.

From page 104: The hunter stood in the wide glow of the blaze: pallets, crates, boxes, pieces of tree. Donned wholly in gray wolf pelt, with white man’s skin and untrimmed hair still dark despite his age, he seemed a make-believe shaman. The wolf’s tail was still attached to his guise, its fanged head pulled low over his own for a hood.

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