Whitebark pine in a mystery novel, The Wild Inside, set in Glacier National Park, MT
Book Review of The Wild Inside by Cyndi Smith
I like reading mystery/crime novels that explicitly reference their locale. So the last time that I was at The Book Exchange in Missoula, MT (on our way to the WPEF science meeting in Stanley, ID) I picked up The Wild Inside, a “novel of suspense” by Christine Carbo (an Atria paperback published by Simon and Schuster). She is from Whitefish, MT, just west of Glacier National Park and her familiarity with the area helps set a realistic scene. The book is the first of four in a series featuring park law enforcement rangers and specialists dealing with crimes in the park. Stereotypically for previous novels set in the park, the crime also involves a grizzly bear mauling (actually two, although one happened 20 years earlier).
The author weaves snippets of grizzly bear and whitebark pine biology into the story. The crime happens in the fall, just as bears are busy putting on weight before heading into hibernation, and the protagonist mentions that while the bears feed heavily on huckleberries, white pine blister rust and mountain pine beetle are killing the whitebark pine trees that they also feed on for their fatty seeds. A second mention comes when officials are discussing whether the bear should be euthanized and how it fits into the overall population, and that in Yellowstone National Park the dwindling supply of pine nuts might be affecting the bear population there. The final mention of whitebark pine comes in a flashback by the protagonist, to when he was 14 years old and camping with his father in the park. His father tells him that the dead trees around the lake are whitebark pines killed by a fungus accidentally brought in from Europe on nursery stock, and that “about half of the original ones in Glacier are already dead and an estimated seventy-five percent of the remaining are infected and may die in a few decades.”
While I am sure park staff will roll their eyes at a few of the procedures, I give full credit to Carbo for including some real biology in her novel. I look forward to reading the next novel in her series. More information on Carbo and her books can be found at <christinecarbo.com>.