Hi mystery fans! You might be thinking that since it’s now spring and nature has sprung, I th...
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Apr 20, 2022

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Hi mystery fans! You might be thinking that since it’s now spring and nature has sprung, I thought to put together some mysteries in the outdoors. Which would be a great story but the truth is I just happened to read these two books back to back and surprise: a theme of outdoors happened. So I have a fictional remote mystery on a mountain and a true crime memoir that takes a dive into our national parks.

cover image for Breathless

Breathless by Amy McCulloch

I really like books with interesting settings, especially places that you could not pay me to even think about going to. That’s the beauty of reading and getting to watch someone else do it.

In this case the majority of the book takes place on a mountain, Manaslu, the eighth-highest peak in the world. Cecily Wong is trying to basically make her career and she’s hit a moment in her life where she believes it’s now do-or-die: either she takes—and accomplishes–this opportunity, or she’s never going to be a journalist. Charles McVeigh is a world famous mountaineer and he’s agreed to let Wong interview him, a huge deal, but only after she completes the summit with him.

Teeny tiny problem: she’s broke and it costs a lot to buy equipment, she’s not a climber, her journalist boyfriend dumps her when she gets offered this assignment, and most importantly for the purposes of a mystery, people start dying. Will she make it, not only to the summit to get her interview, but back down alive?

The book has amazing detail that puts you right on the mountain, constantly aware that one slight misstep—literal and figurative—will leave you dead. Which then starts to get paired with the drama of people in dangerous situations, and the whole Agatha Christie plot of a remote place where people are popping up dead. But in a place so dangerous, surely there isn’t anything sinister beyond extreme conditions? Or is everyone in even more danger?

The author’s bio states “In September 2019, she became the youngest Canadian woman to climb Mt Manaslu in Nepal – the world’s eighth highest mountain at 8,163m (26,781ft),” and it really shows in the book that mountaineering is a thing she knows a lot about. It also shows how much the sport (? is it considered a sport) discriminates against anyone who isn’t a cis man, making an already incredibly difficult thing even more difficult for so many people. I learned a lot from this book and while I remain forever and ever certain this is not a thing for me, I loved getting to experience it while all cozy inside my home. The audiobook, narrated by Katie Leung, paired really well for me with a jigsaw puzzle.

cover image for Trailed

Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles

This is part of the new true crime subgenre that melds memoir with true crime. The true crime aspect is the still unsolved murders of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, who were murdered in 1996 in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. The memoir aspect is Kathryn Miles talking about how she came to learn of this case, her ties to hiking and how this case spotlighted the dangers of hiking and camping for especially people who aren’t cis men.

The true crime part really focuses on who Lollie Winans and Julie Williams were: their lives growing up, how they met, and their lives at the time of the murders. While there was a suspect in the case, a man in prison for assaulting a woman that was publicly named, and Attorney General John Ashcroft said he’d seek the death penalty in the case and try it as a federal hate crime, he later suspended the case. To this day the same person has remained accused but not tried and the case is unsolved.

Miles lays out the case and doesn’t believe the accused is the killer. She also meets and interviews the accused’s legal team, who always believed him innocent, as well as criminal investigators, and even presents the case to a class to get the student’s opinion on who they think the killer is. I can’t say I was sold either way in the argument mostly because I did feel there was a feeling of the end of the book being rushed (can you put publishing deadlines on investigating cold cases?) and Miles posits herself that investigators will zero in on someone they believe and only use the facts to prove that, and questions whether she too was doing that in the reverse. There were a few parts where it felt that. On the plus side Miles steered clear of giving unnecessary gruesome or graphic details. And I really hope this case gets the right kind of attention that may finally help solve what happened so the women’s loved ones can at least have answers.

What I did find absolutely fascinating about this book was the deep dive into national parks, their history, how they operate, and most importantly their safety. How safe is it for people, especially non cis white men, to hike and camp out in national parks? Again, you can miss me with any hiking and camping trip, no matter how much I love nature, but that didn’t stop me from being fascinated by all the information related to those activities.

(TW child sexual abuse, not graphic/ date rape recounted, not graphic/ stalker/ brief suicide, detailed/ women and girls sexual assault cases/ mentions past child abuse)

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at Audiobooks.com with a free trial!

From The Book Riot Crime Vault

15 of the Best Feminist Mystery Novels

Browse all the books recommended in Unusual Suspects previous newsletters on this shelf. See upcoming 2022 releases. Check out this Unusual Suspects Pinterest board and get Tailored Book Recommendations!

Until next time, keep investigating! In the meantime, come talk books with me on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Litsy–you can find me under Jamie Canavés.

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