An oblique journey into the heart of darkness, Hold the Dark often seems otherworldly, set in the remote Alaskan village of Keelut where inhabitants hold no truck with police, preferring to attend their own and presenting a wall of silence to outsiders. When Russell Core, animal authority and the author of a book about wolves, arrives in Keelut at the behest of Medora Sloane, he is responding as well to his own urge to find a place where a weary life might find a conclusion. Though not an entirely conscious desire, his willingness to enter unknown territory and experience whatever awaits is part of his long, slow dance with the end of his journey. Still, he hopes to be of assistance to a woman who claims her six-year-old son, Bailey, was seized by wolves, though unsure why he has been selected. With a decided affinity for the instincts of these wilderness creatures, Core knows that in times of famine like these, it is not unknown for the animals to snatch people to stave off certain starvation.
Cryptic and dramatic, the blonde-haired, white-skinned Medora appears an anomaly in this place of dark-skinned people, distraught over her son’s loss, demanding that Core should return with either Bailey’s bones for burial or those of the wolf who stole him. Her husband, Vernon, is due back from his tour of duty in the Middle East any day, and Medora wanders the small cabin at night muttering, unable to rest, a mournful Lady Macbeth wringing her hands. The next morning, clad in Vernon Sloane’s hunting garb and boots, Russell begins a grueling and futile search, barely escaping attack by a wandering pack of wolves. Upon his return to Keelut, Core stumbles across the answer to the mystery. Medora is now gone from the village without a trace.
Events move swiftly once he returns to find Medora gone. The authorities descend on a village where inhabitants remain mute when questioned. Vernon Sloane is back with questions of his own and indulges in savage acts of violence once he learns what has happened in his absence. As Giraldi reveals the evolution of the relationship of Medora and Vernon Sloane in chapters past and present, Core remains a silent observer, part of a tableau he cannot understand yet unwilling to leave the place where he has felt closest to his own truth, a flirtation with death that requires only acquiescence to the elements.
Despite this eerie, haunted terrain strewn with the bodies of the dead in the aftermath of Sloane’s implacable wrath, the prose is often stunning, provocative and insightful: “The dead don’t haunt the living. The living haunt themselves.” What would be called aberrant behavior in most circumstances—murder and senseless bravado—assumes another incarnation, one born of otherness and unbridled passion that flouts civilized notions, more in sync with the natural world than that defined by man. While Core’s relevance fades yet never quite extinguishes, he is witness to a relationship that could only find purchase in the icy landscape claimed by wolves and darkness. A coupling that defies the natural seduces the reader into a secret hope that the damned might find peace and survive a twisted fate, more at home in the bosom of darkness than the blazing light of revelation. An extraordinary, haunting tale.