Book Review: Hunting Ground by Meghan Holloway
Moving to the small town of Raven’s Gap, Montana, Evelyn Hutto just wants to start over after a terrible few years. When her car dies on the way into town, one of the first people she meets is aging deputy, Hector Lewis, a man who’s never got past the unsolved disappearance of his wife and daughter fifteen years earlier. Within days of Evelyn’s arrival, a young woman is found dead… and than another disappears… and another…
Told from the dual points of view of Evelyn and Hector, this is somewhat unusual for a whodunnit in that not only does the reader find out early on who the villain is, but both Evelyn and Hector also know… they just can’t prove it. The killer has been operating for years, getting away with it by taking women nobody is looking for, which brings up a central tenet of this work, the plight of missing and murdered Native American and Canadian women. The statistics, presented at the beginning of each chapter, are nothing short of horrifying, and I think it’s admirable of the author to try and raise awareness about this cause.
However, I think the message gets a little bit lost because Evelyn herself isn’t Native. And neither is the serial killer’s first victim, ‘Rose’, the subject of his obsession, lately supplanted by Evelyn. The other, Native victims, were just throwaways, unimportant to the killer, convenient to take the edge off his thirst without high risk of getting caught because he knew nobody would expend significant resources to look for them. And then he just starts randomly spree killing any woman he can get at, to rattle Evelyn.
I can see what the author’s trying to do here, but it becomes a problem when not only are none of the protagonists Native, but literally none of the surviving characters in the book are either. They’re only victims, people who don’t get to tell their own stories, face their own challenges… defeat their oppressors. Evelyn even gets a job working at a museum curating Native artifacts, a white woman portrayed as an authority on artifacts that aren’t her culture. The whole thing is just not sitting quite right with me, and it could have been fixed so easily by having Evelyn be of Native ancestry herself. Yes, it would have required some more work to accurately portray a Native woman as the protagonist; Evelyn would undoubtedly have experienced some microaggressions at the very least, would have reacted differently to her discoveries in the museum’s archives, but I think it would have made for a much better story, one with much more immediacy and visceral impact to it.
There are good parts about this story, and I do applaud the author for trying to raise awareness about an important issue, but I think it’s clumsily done and falls into some unfortunate traps. Overall, I’ll give it three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.