Once There Were Wolves
reviewed by Sandra Hoover
Once There Were Wolves. The title alone stoked my imagination, shooting my anticipation of this book through the roof. And when I read the opening line in the prologue, I knew this book was going to be special. And special it is.
Once There Were Wolves is a story about a wildlife biologist’s quest to reintroduce gray wolves to the natural habitat in the Scotland Highlands where they were eradicated hundreds of years before, essentially dooming the environment. Inti Flynn and her team of wildlife biologists set out to prove that reintroducing wolves to the area will renew the ecosystem and allow the natural habitat to flourish once again. However, Inti’s efforts to rebirth the area are met by stiff opposition from local farmers and sheep herders who fear for their safety and livelihood.
When Inti Flynn left Alaska for the Wolf Trust project in Scotland, she brought her traumatized twin sister Aggie with her hoping to help her heal. Living with mirror touch synesthesia, Inti experiences others pain as it happens meaning she suffered the same horrific abuse that left her twin mostly mute and terrified of venturing out of the house. Life is settling in until a wolf is needlessly shot by a farmer, and Inti stumbles across a man’s mutilated body. Knowing they will blame the wolves, she makes an ill-advised, spur of the moment decision that will prove disastrous. Did one of her wolves break pattern and kill the man? Or is a killer on the hunt in the Scottish Highlands? Inti works with the local sheriff with whom she’s started a relationship to learn the truth.
Once There Were Wolves is a brilliantly rendered, gut-wrenching journey into the lives of these characters including the wolves. The concept of reintroducing the wolves to help balance the inequities in nature is intriguing. McConaghy’s extensive research is obvious but presented in a way that enhances the intense, highly atmospheric, multifaceted plot line. While the author’s writing is complex, it feels simple – a natural flow of energy driven by the fast pace and the visceral anguish and sense of urgency suffered by Inti as she struggles to make the right decisions for all involved. At times, her psyche is as fragile as the barren environment, at other times as strong and wild as her beloved wolves. Inti’s interaction with the wolves is breathtaking to witness, and I feel like I was a participant in the highly visual scenes with these powerful and yet fragile animals.
This story touched my heart as much or maybe more than Migrations. Both books are priceless in terms of what the uniquely talented author delivers in a highly compassionate can’t put the book down way. In Once There Were Wolves, McConaghy gifts readers with one of the best mysteries I’ve read in some time . . . one that stands out in a genre full of great books and writers. And she does so utilizing Inti’s idiomatic voice, past/present chapters with flawed characters showcasing how the past affects the future – all the while pulling intertwining plot lines together in a shocking conclusion that left this reader stunned.
Once There Were Wolves is a study of human nature and the many complexities of maneuvering a flawed world. It’s a study of toxic relationships that reverberate throughout our lives, of learning to persevere and thrive under dire circumstances, of rebirth of one’s self and nature. It’s a raw, intense, haunting self portrait of life. It’s a warning. Highly recommended to fans of mystery, suspense, and heartfelt readers of great stories! Like Migrations, this one will reside in my heart a long time to come.