The Last Woman in the Forest

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 May 2019

Member Reviews

I could not finish this book. The mystery was rather intriguing -- a serial killer in rural Montana, a retired detective, and the possibility that a boyfriend was somehow connected to the murders. But there were just too many interminable passages about training dogs and the work of gathering and analyzing scat in the wilderness to keep me interested. In addition, the book jumps back and forth in time and place so often that I lost track of the story. I finally gave up at about 60% finished.
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This book ended up just being an okay read. I was listening to the audiobook at work and while it was entertaining enough, I was overly excited to read it. I was not gripped by this story and didn't necessarily find anything compelling about it the story of the characters. It was an interesting story and concept but nothing that wowed me and made the story memorable for me.
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I wanted to read this book for entirely superficial reasons.

I loved the dog on the cover.

I know, I know, you can barely see the dog but I know it’s a husky and I have a husky so as a husky lover, I couldn’t pass this book up based on that alone. That and in the summary it sounded like said dog was going to be part of the book, as the main character worked with rescue dogs.

So that’s what roped me in initially, but then I read the description and I liked the sound of the thriller/suspense genre mixed with a romance aspect of the book, so I decided to give it a try.

Summary

Marian Engström has found her true calling: working with rescue dogs to help protect endangered wildlife. Her first assignment takes her to northern Alberta, where she falls in love with her mentor, the daring and brilliant Tate. When they’re separated on another assignment, she’s shattered to learn of his tragic death. Before long, Marian discovers disturbing inconsistencies about Tate’s life, and begins to wonder if the man she loved could have been responsible for the unsolved murders of at least four women.

Hoping to clear Tate’s name, Marian reaches out to a retired forensic profiler who’s haunted by the open cases. But as Marian relives her relationship with Tate and circles ever closer to the truth, evil stalks her every move (summary from Goodreads).

Review

So this booked a bit of an identity crisis. It wasn’t bad—not at all. But I think it was a little misrepresented in some ways. The cover screams thriller to me with the summary supporting it. Though the summary suggests maybe more suspense than thriller but that’s neither here nor there.. As I was reading, I felt like this book was a little more about the romance.

It’s told between two alternating timelines with the main character, Marian, questioning everything she knew about the man she loved, Tate. There was a lot of time devoted to their relationship which made me feel like there was an awful lot of romance in this book that was supposed to be a thriller. Now don’t get me wrong, there was a darker mystery here, but there is quite a bit of relationship bits sprinkled throughout this book which is what made me wonder if it was having an identity crisis.

Normally I love books with alternating story timelines, but at times this one felt like some of the aspects of the timeline moved slowly. There was a lot of information and sometimes I felt that it was unnecessary the the greater story. I did love how vividly the author describes the scenery and setting. It felt very rugged and atmospheric. It was also evident that the author did  lot of research about rescue dogs. I loved the dogs and hearing about their work.

The plot/mystery itself was interesting and I liked seeing how the pieces fit together in the larger story. Though the story didn’t really become ‘fast paced’ for me until much later. I think this is a good book, but it just wasn’t as quick of a read as I was expecting. In the end I went with 3 stars, good but not great.

Book Info and Rating

Kindle Edition, 351 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by Berkley
ASIN B07DMZ4P68
Free review copy provided by, Berkley Publishing, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: mystery, suspense, thriller
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To be honest, when I first started this book I read a few chapters and promptly put it down. I was not interested and was ready to quit the book. Yet, after a while, I came back to it and decided to give it another chance. I started over and something clicked this time around. I was more in tune with what I was reading. 

Marian was fine as was the other characters. Although, the characters were just middle of the road with their personalities. It was the pacing of the storyline that really did it for me with this book. It moved so slow. There was not a lot that happened. It is like the long Alaskan nights. I want to say that the last third of the story makes up for the pacing but it does not. While, I was not a fan of this book, I would give this author another try.
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A suspenseful story with a surprise ending.  The way the mystery of who was the serial killer was handled very well, will recommend this to our patrons.
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A chilling journey coupled with suspense and a cold, desolate setting. Marian is a conservationist who is working with rescue dogs in research set in remote, very isolated settings. Her boyfriend and coworker, Tate, is killed on assignment and Marian begins to rethink everything she thought she knew about him. Is Tate the one behind the unsolved murders of women in the area? The isolated setting of the story coupled with the slow burn of the investigation make for a beautiful thriller.
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If a book is a learning experience, in my view it's a winner. With that in mind, Diane Les Becquets is a champion. With "The Last Woman in the Forest," I not only learned about environmental research and dog handling, but I experienced physical wilderness and emotional reserve through the eyes of the protagonist, a young woman coming to grips with loss and redemption, murder and love, all while exploring some of the world's natural wonders. A lover's death and a series of unsolved murders are framed in natural beauty. The dogs she tenderly cares for will never let her down, and neither will be the retired forensic psychologist who comes to her rescue.  I applaud the author for her extensive research about those who feel called to help protect our fragile environment. You can tell that there;s a large part of the author's soul and heart in the character of Marian, a woman who is searching for her place in the world, whether it be in the mountains, desert or tundra.
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Marian Engstrom enjoys working with rescue dogs doing conservation work in the back country of Montana and Idaho. She meets Tate and they fall in love. As the book opens, Marian is scattering Tate's ashes in the forest they both loved. What follows is an interesting study of psychopathy. Marian begins to suspect Tate may have been responsible for the murder of four women over the course of several years. She teams up with a retired forensic profiler, who is dying from cancer, to try and determine if what she fears is true. As Marian slowly comes to gripes with Tate's lies, she also grows into her own strength and confidence. The writing is beautiful, but the pacing is slow, which detracted from the story.
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Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an eARC of this book. 
For me, this book was an unexpected hit. Though it has its flaws, it is engrossing and readable. Despite involving fairly graphic descriptions of serial killings, it is written by  woman and the victims are never blamed for what happens to them. The background story involving dogs and research in the wilderness really grabbed me.
I guessed the plot early on but it did not distract from the edge of your seat anticipation of when the villain would strike. 
Good read.
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A good read that kept me wondering up until the very end!  How scary would it be to live with the thought that your dead lover may have been responsible for some pretty heinous crimes!
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Stevie‘s review of The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets
Contemporary Women’s Psychological Fiction published by Berkley 05 Mar 19

While I love mysteries, I have a bit of a gripe with most suspense (romantic or otherwise), in that a lot of the plots rely on at least one protagonist (generally female) doing things that are highly inadvisable, if not downright stupid. Ironically, in a lot of serial killer cases of the past, it was the victims who were often wrongly accused of showing the same sort of behavioural traits. In spite of my reservations, I took a chance on this book because of the slightly unusual hook, whereby the suspected killer is the deceased boyfriend of the main protagonist and she, for her part, is determined to prove or disprove his part in the killings, even when she’s the only one who doubts him.


We first meet Marian Engström as she’s scattering a portion of her boyfriend’s ashes in a river. She then returns to her car – which had formerly been his – and makes a call to the former forensic profiler, who worked on a series of unsolved murders, which occurred close to where she and her boyfriend were based when not out in the field working on wildlife studies. When she and Tate were together, Marian had occasionally wondered if everything he told her about his past was true. Since his death, other people who knew him have confirmed her suspicions. But does that make Tate a murderer of at least four young women?

Nick Shepard helped solve some high-profile cases over the course of his working life, but, since retirement, he’s been haunted by his memories of the victims whose killers were never brought to justice, particularly the four Stillwater cases. Now diagnosed with terminal cancer, Nick views Marian’s request as one last action he can perform in order to set the world a little more to rights. While Tate’s profile suggests that he could well be the killer, and some of the facts he claimed to know about the case were never released to the public, it also appears that someone is watching Marian and means to do harm to her or to one of her female colleagues.

I loved the backdrop to this story. Marian, Tate, and their companions work with rescue dogs to assess wildlife populations in some highly remote and potentially dangerous locations. While Marian is far from worldly-wise, and occasionally acts rashly, her personality ties in with Nick’s profile of what the Stillwater killer looked for in his victims. A coincidence, or was Marian destined to be the next woman killed?

The book had me guessing almost to the very end, and even when the main mystery was revealed, the finale had me on tenterhooks as to who was going to make it out alive. I wasn’t 100% convinced by the epilogue, but I’m going to look out for more books by this author.

Grade: B
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My latest entry in the literary world of snow and woods came courtesy of Diane Les Becquets, whose second novel, The Last Woman in the Forest, combines wilderness tales with women’s fiction and mystery. Marian Engström works as a dog handler in the woods of Canada, using the canines to track endangered wildlife. Devastated by the death of her co-worker and lover, Tate, Marian begins to wonder if Tate could have been the serial killer who’d brutally murdered several young women in nearby and other wilderness areas over the years. She reaches out to Nick, the retired forensic profiler who’s dying of cancer and who made a name for himself tracking this killer. Can Marian and Nick find out the truth about Tate before Nick succumbs to his disease? Click on the link below to read the complete review.
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I wanted to love this book, it just wasn't grabbing my attention.  I couldn't connect with the characters, or the plot. But I did appreciate the Authors writing style. It was very detailed, and plot driven. I think many others will enjoy this one!
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Besties and Brujas – Maggie & Shannon talk the Domestic Thriller
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Last year’s trend amongst suspense and mystery novels seemed to be the domestic thriller. Books like Lisa Jewel’s Then She Was Gone  or the outstanding Our House by Louise Candlish, focused on families in the middle of a dark crisis. Towards the end of the year, the focus seemed to be leaning more towards friends and the dangers inherent in trusting the wrong people with our secrets. That fad has continued into 2019, offering up some truly memorable, chilling books that expose the dark underside of the term ‘besties’.

Maggie: Most suspense tales have a mix of both family and friends but a friends or frenemies thriller has the action derive from the friendship. Would you agree?  What draws you to a best friend drama?

Shannon: I would definitely agree with this assessment. It’s hard to have a thriller that’s completely centered around either family or friends since both play pivotal roles in our lives. We can’t choose our families, but we do choose our friends, and this choice sometimes backfires. I love it when authors examine what happens when someone chooses the wrong friends, or when a solid friendship suddenly goes sideways.

Maggie: I felt the year got off to a really strong start with Her One Mistake by Heidi Perks, to which you gave an A in your review. It’s the story of Charlotte, who takes her friend Harriet’s daughter to the fair along with her own three kids. While the three older children play on an inflatable obstacle course, Charlotte deals with her youngest, glancing at Facebook posts on her phone while she waits. When Harriet’s little girl goes missing, all hell breaks loose and the community turns on the popular Charlotte with a vengeance.  One thing I felt the author showcased very well was the give and take of women’s friendships. How we become embroiled in each other’s lives through our simple kindnesses to each other. I’ll add that I felt one of the two characters was someone I would most definitely not want in my life. What did you think?

Shannon: Her One Mistake is definitely one of the high points of my 2019 reading. It was a book I hated to put down, one that compelled me to keep reading, even when I had other things that needed to be done. That doesn’t happen to me with all thrillers, so it’s a real treat when an author can manage to hook me in so completely.

Maggie: My other missing child book this year was She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge. This is more of a police procedural which revolves around a group of seven friends who go into the woods – and emerge as a group of six. It wasn’t quite as intense as Her One Mistake but it is a deeply riveting story nonetheless. Do you have any other novels you’d recommend with that theme from the past six months?

Shannon: She Lies In Wait is one I haven’t read, but I’ve heard a ton of great things about it. I’m hoping to get to it soon. I haven’t read any other missing child books that involve friends over the past few months, but I’m always on the lookout for more.

Maggie: I Invited Her In by Adele Parks which came out in February explores the theme of friends who reunite with disastrous results. One of the things I thought the author did really, really well in this book is create a believable friendship between the two protagonists. With many stories I find myself wondering how the two women became friends to begin with but with these ladies I understood their dynamic almost instantly. Which made it far more chilling to me when everything started to unravel. What did you think of the dynamic between Mel and Abi?

Shannon: It’s frustrating when the friendship that is supposed to drive the plot forward doesn’t feel convincing. Fortunately, that wasn’t at all my experience with I Invited Her In. Mel and Abi had a very authentic relationship. I understood the highs and lows they experienced over the years, and when things did start to go south, I kept hoping they could find a safe, healthy way to sort things out. There was something so compelling about the way they used to relate to each other, and I really wanted them to be able to reclaim that feeling.

Maggie: I agree, although I don’t know that it would ever have been possible after some of what happened. My other friend-visit-turned-nightmare novel is You Were Made For This by Michelle Sacks. It’s a far darker, more disturbing story but fans of grim, twisty tales about sinister characters will love it.  Do you have any other recent recommendations along this line?

Shannon: Girls Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke kind of fits into this category. It’s the story of three best friends who go on vacation in the hopes of patching up their differences, but one of them ends up disappearing while on the trip. The reader is left wondering if her friends had something to do with her disappearance. It’s one of those books where the reader has absolutely no idea who to trust.

Maggie: Girls Night Out is on my TBR list.  Changing pace, lest we have anyone thinking the best thing to do would be to purge the contact list on their phone, let’s talk about the dangers of not having friends. In An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen bad circumstances have forced Jessica Farris into a lifestyle of isolation, aside from her one bestie. She doesn’t mind this solitary existence but it does lend itself to a situation which leaves her vulnerable to a powerful protagonist. I found Jessica a very interesting person, a mix of strong and susceptible, generous and desperate. What did you think of her?

Shannon: Pekkanen and Hendricks really hit the ball out of the park with An Anonymous Girl. I had no clue what to expect going in, and I was completely entranced by the story. Jessica is a heroine we could so easily encounter in our daily lives, and those are honestly some of my favorite types of protagonists. It’s nice to read about someone who doesn’t have mad skills that set them apart from the rest of the world.

Maggie: I agree. Another book I felt highlighted that a lack of friends can be every bit as dangerous as having the wrong one was The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets. In this novel, Marian works with rescue dogs in remote locations. She has many acquaintances but the people who work the job tend not to be gregarious or close, preferring nature to nurture. Which leaves the lovely Marian to become prey to the worst kind of predator. Do you have any other recommendations for this trope?

Shannon: This isn’t a really recent release, but Cass Green’s In a Cottage in a Wood features an isolated heroine who has hit rock bottom. She inherits a run-down cottage in a remote part of the English countryside, and she decides to spend some time there to lick her proverbial wounds. Of course, things don’t turn out to be as peaceful and serene as she’s hoping for, and her isolation plays a huge role in what happens next. It’s an incredibly creepy and atmospheric story that I’m more than happy to recommend.

Maggie: I’m adding that to my list! Let’s end on a positive note and talk about friends who help. A popular theme is the tale of the investigative friend.  In Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall a roommate launches an investigation to find her missing friend – and find out why she’s disappeared.  I thought Ellen, the main protagonist of the tale, was also very representative of the clingy friend. She seemed to always need someone’s coat-tail to hang on. What did you think of Ellen and her style of friendship?

Shannon: I’m fortunate not to have had someone like Ellen in my life. She definitely took way more than she ever gave in return, and I found myself frustrated by her selfishness. Of course, people like this do exist in the world, and I found Marshall’s representation of this type of friendship to be pretty spot-on.

Maggie:  Another story that revolves around a friend who investigates and discovers a lot more than she bargained for is Camryn King’s Triple Threat about Mallory Knight, a young lady that won’t accept her best friend committed suicide. She launches an investigation to discover just what happened, uncovering some surprising secrets along the way. Do you have any other recommendations with this trope?

Shannon: Again, I’m reaching back a few years for this one, but K.A. Tucker’s He Will Be My Ruin is a must read if you enjoy this trope. It sounds pretty similar to Triple Threat in that our heroine learns her best friend has committed suicide, something she has a hard time accepting. She starts digging into her friend’s life and uncovers all kinds of unexpected things. Tucker’s writing is super compelling, and I loved every second of this story.

Maggie: I’ll have to check into that one, too! Thanks for talking mysteries with me. It’s been a lot of fun!

Shannon: You’re very welcome. Mysteries are some of my very favorite things, so I’m always happy to rhapsodize about the ones I’ve loved.
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Wow!  A fascinating tale of a serial, psychotic killer who seems like a good guy. Marian is a caring young woman who finds her dream job working in the wilderness with dogs. Here she meets Tate and falls in love. But is he who he says he is or is it all fantasy> What about the four murdered women? This book was hard to put down. Read. It is loosely based on similar situations..
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Marian falls in love while working in for an environmental group in northern Alberta, but when her boyfriend dies she starts to wonder if he might have been a serial killer. I was unsettled the entire time. The wilderness is scary enough without a killer on the loose.
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I really tried with this one, but it wasn't for me.

I found the victims accounts chilling, and I do read a lot of mystery/thrillers, so you'd think this wouldn't bother me so much, but for some reason I didn't care for this addition. Maybe because it was too sad knowing that they weren't going to make it, and as soon as their chapter/POV came up I cringed at the thought of what was coming.

A copy was kindly provided by Berkley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The Last Woman in the Forest is the latest novel from author Diane Les Becquets, and if you asked me to describe it in a single word, my response would be bone-chilling! It turned out to be exactly the kind of twisty, dark thriller I was hoping it would be, and I blew through it in just over a day.Marian has finally found a job she loves. She's never wanted to spend her days cooped up in an office, so working with shelter dogs on various wildlife studies seems to be a perfect fit for her. She spends her days hiking little-used trails with the dogs she loves by her side collecting samples of animal scat, and she finally feels like she's found her calling. But what if this dream job of Marian's has actually managed to put her directly in the path of a serial killer, and what if the man suspected of the crimes is none other than the man Marian loves?Marian and Tate met on her first day on the job, and from that first meeting, Marian was drawn to him in a way she cannot explain. They seemed to click right from the start, and despite the fact that relationships between co-workers was frowned upon, they soon fell in love and began sleeping together. It wasn't long before Marian began imagining spending the rest of her life with Tate, so when he is killed in a tragic confrontation with a grizzly bear just seven months into their relationship, Marian is shattered.In the days following Tate's death, Marian is consumed by memories of the time they spent together. She expects to take comfort from these memories, but she finds herself puzzled by certain inconsistencies in stories Tate has told her. At first, she chalks her bafflement up to grief, but as time passes and she still feels uneasy about certain unanswered questions, she decides to dig deeper into Tate's past. To this end, she contacts retired forensic investigator Nick Shepherd, who has spent his life tracking down numerous ruthless killers.Nick is dealing with a medical crisis of his own, but something about Marian speaks to him, and he agrees to help her in whatever way he can. The group of killings dubbed the Stillwater Murders has haunted him for the past several years. The killer has never been caught, a fact Nick views as a personal failure. Perhaps helping Marian discover the truth about who Tate really was will finally bring Nick some much needed peace.The timeline of events is a little tricky, so you'll want to pay close attention to the dates given at the start of each chapter. The story opens just after Marian learns of Tate's death, and we move back and forth in time as Marian recalls key events in her relationship with him. I usually prefer stories told in a more linear fashion, but the somewhat disorganized way this story is told actually worked well for me. It illustrated Marian's somewhat fragmented state of mind, and I'm not sure a more linear sequence of events would have been nearly as compelling.Most of our time is spent with Marian, but we're also given glimpses into the lives of the four victims of the Stillwater murders. Nick has created extensive profiles of each of the womens' last days, and I enjoyed getting to know a bit more about them. Plus, there are a few chapters told from Nick's point of view, and this added an extra investigative layer to the story.If you're a dog lover, The Last Woman in the Forest is sure to resonate with you. Marian works closely with two dogs in particular, and the book is full of little tidbits about the way they're trained to work in the wilderness. It serves as a lovely counterpoint to the darker parts of the story.The pacing of the novel is pretty close to perfect! It's one of those extremely atmospheric tales that's perfect for reading on a blustery, stormy night. The author's ability to ramp up the tension in tiny increments kept me glued to my iPad for hours at a time, making this a book I'm delighted to recommend to lovers of creepy mysteries set in the wilderness.Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/KoboVisit our Amazon Storefront
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The following review was posted on my blog (www.blogginboutbooks.com) on 04.19.19:

Biologist Marian Engström has always been better with animals than humans, so it's no surprise when she finds her life's calling as a dog handler.  During training, she falls in love with charismatic Tate Mathias, who regals her with tales of his many adventures.  While he's not one to settle down, Marian hopes the two of them will have a bright, happy future together.  That dream shatters when 35-year-old Tate dies after being savagely mauled by a bear while on a job in Washington State.  

Stricken with grief, Marian ruminates on all her interactions with Tate, only now freeing some of the misgivings she had about her enigmatic boyfriend.  One of his stories, very vividly told, had him heroically discovering the body of a murdered woman.  With more killings happening since that one, Marian can't help but wonder, did Tate have more to do with the victim than just discovering her corpse?  Enlisting the help of a retired forensic profiler/psychologist, Marian vows to figure out just who Tate Mathias really was.  Was he simply an adventurer who enjoyed exaggerating his exploits for entertainment value?  Or was he a compulsive liar turned serial killer?  She will not rest until she knows the truth.

Although The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets is billed as a mystery/thriller, it really ... isn't.  It's more of a literary suspense novel, just without a whole lot of suspense.  The story unfolds very slowly, weighted down by lengthy descriptions of nature and dog handling.  It's a character-driven novel for sure; the plot only really only gets "thrilling" toward the end.  As you can imagine, this makes for a sluggish read that gets dull at times.  Overall, I found the book compelling enough to finish, but also easy to put down.  For all these reasons, The Last Woman in the Forest turned out to be just an okay read for me.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:  B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Last Woman in the Forest from the generous folks at Penguin Random House via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!
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Though you could feel that the author was very passionate about this topic, I found the story a little disjointed.  There seemed to be a lot of useless information that was maybe designed to mislead the reader.  The story is about a woman who joins a wilderness program.  It is in an area where some women have been murdered, obviously by the same serial killer.  The story then switches between present day and a year ago when the main character joins the program.  In present day she contacts a detective who was working on the murder investigation because she is suspicious about her boyfriend (also on the program) who has just been found dead.
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