About Montana: winner of the High Plains Book Award and Pinckley Prize. Finalist for International Thriller Award, Silver Falchion Award and Shamus Award
By Gwen Florio
Publication Date: Oct. 25, 2013
Publisher: The Permanent Press
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Montana by Gwen Florio introduces readers to Lola Wicks, a war correspondent and investigative reporter trying to rebuild her life after the shock and humiliation of being downsized.
Her editor reassigns her to a stateside suburban beat formerly the province of interns. And when she arrives in Montana for some R&R at a friend’s cabin, her friend is nowhere in sight. Anger turns to terror when Lola discovers her friend’s fate – and is held as a witness. Her best hope in getting out of Montana lies in solving the case herself. But the surefooted journalist who deftly negotiated Afghanistan’s deadly terrain finds herself frighteningly off-balance in this forgotten corner of her own country.
Lola’s lone-wolf style doesn’t work in a place where the harsh landscape and extreme isolation compel people to rely upon each other in ways she finds unsettling. In her awkward attempts at connection, she forms a reluctant alliance with a local reporter, succumbs to the romantic attentions of a wealthy rancher, and fences warily with the state’s first Indian candidate for governor, the subject of her friend’s final stories. Ultimately she comes to truly care about the people she meets in Montana, only to miss the warning signals that her own life is in danger.
“It’s never as bad as you think,” Mary Alice’s friend Lola liked to say, of everything from meals to men to the various stories they’d chased as young reporters. “It’s worse.”
Mary Alice Carr eased onto her stomach by centimeters. The slick fabric of her puffy down jacket made soft whispery sounds as she set the gun in front of her, resting her wrist on a flat rock. She’d hauled the rock into place on the hill above her cabin the night before, back when she’d attributed the whole elaborate setup to the paranoia resulting from working too long on a story turned too strange.
Cold pinched her exposed wrists. The man had been in the cabin a long time, probably at her desk, strewn with files baited with misleading labels, and flash drives filled with meaningless junk. If she’d called it right, he’d scoop it all up, assume he’d gotten what he came for, and drive away, giving her a precious few seconds to glimpse his face before he got into his car. She wondered how long she should stay up on the hill after he left.
Then realized she’d never actually heard him drive up.
She opened her eyes.
Mist pooled in the clearing below, the darkness cottony around the edges, dawn commencing. A man knelt on the porch, solid and dark and real in the vaporous light, sighting Mary Alice through the scope of an AR-15, its barrel steadied on the porch railing. A hat shielded his face but she had no trouble imagining the crosshairs centered on her own. The sturdy .45, so comforting moments before, felt like a toy in her shaking hand. Fifty yards was pushing the limits of its range. By the time her bullet slowed in a tumbling fall toward the porch, his would have punched through her and beyond, just getting warmed up on its unerring way.
Mary Alice dropped the gun and raised her hands high.
Downsized by her Baltimore newspaper, war correspondent Lola Wicks heads west to northern Montana for a much-needed reunion with fellow journalist and longtime friend, Mary Alice. A searing prolog tells readers that Mary Alice has just died violently, and, needless to say, Lola is stunned when she finds her friend’s body. Obviously, Mary Alice was on to something so dangerous it cost her her life. Lola’s first instinct is to suspect Johnny Running Wolf, a slick Native American gubernatorial candidate who runs an intense campaign. The killer might think he snagged all of Mary Alice’s latest research, but Lola knows her friend’s tricks, and she haphazardly deciphers Mary Alice’s clues until she unearths a startling long-held secret so implausible that it sounds almost laughable. But if it’s so farfetched, maybe someone can explain why Lola’s life is seriously on the line.VERDICT: Breathless pacing, strong characterizations, and a nuanced plot blend into an unforgettable read. With its strong sense of place and an intriguing ethnic character mix, consider for fans of Lori Armstrong, C.J. Box, and Wayne Arthurson. Florio is a veteran journalist, so she knows her stuff. – Library Journal, Debut of the Month
Journalist Florio’s story about a friend’s murder arrives crammed with atmosphere and intriguing characters.
Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks reluctantly returns from an assignment in Afghanistan, where she’s been holed up with a pool of reporters covering the conflict for so long that the dust, danger and shadowy way of life have become second nature. So when Lola ends up back in Baltimore to meet with an upstart young editor, she’s already sporting an attitude. When the editor informs her the newspaper is shutting down its overseas bureaus to concentrate on local news, Lola doesn’t take it well. A rebel and a loner, she heads for a short, preplanned visit with her close friend Mary Alice, also a former staffer at the paper. Mary Alice had taken an earlier buyout and moved to Montana, where she bought a cabin and went to work at the local paper. But when Lola arrives at the small airport, there’s no Mary Alice to greet her. Annoyed and in a hurry to return to Afghanistan, with or without the paper’s backing, Lola rents a car and drives up to her friend’s cabin deep in the woods near a tiny town called Magpie. But instead of a short reunion with Mary Alice, she finds her friend has been murdered, leaving behind her dog, a horse and a trail of clues that only someone like Lola, who knows her well, could follow. Lola plans to get out of town, but the sheriff has other ideas, and soon, she starts looking into her friend’s homicide, making friends and enemies along the way. Florio dips into her own background to make the protagonist competent and believable. Although it’s a bit difficult to buy Lola as a grizzled veteran at the tender age of 34, the author does a great job of writing a book that’s both evocative of the Montana countryside and a satisfying, hair-raising ride.
A promising debut. – Kirkus Reviews