In Sara Rath's entertaining third novel set in northern Wisconsin, both nostalgia and new adventures vie for Natalie Waters Lindquist's attention. Widowed two years, she plans to spend a quiet summer away from her Madison home in her family's ancestral summer cabin -- for the first time alone. As she sweeps away the dust and mouse droppings, brushes aside the cobwebs, and opens the bare-bones shanty Grandpa Waters had built in 1927, she's besieged with memories of the idyllic summers she spent there as a child on little Lake Sundog, near better-known Star Lake. She recalls, too, the many visits she and her husband, Charlie, made there, first with their two sons, neither of whom loved the place the way she had, and later, as a couple, rekindling their romance there with fantasies of John Dillinger and his molls. The remoteness of the area had attracted Chicago's gangsters, and Dillinger's legend still brings tourists to search for traces of the infamous botched sting that sullied J. Edgar Hoover's reputation. Natalie and Charlie had had one final bittersweet visit there before he died.
But it doesn't take long for her memories to dissipate and adrenaline to flow as Natalie faces down a timber wolf that's attacked Molly, her chocolate Lab, on their first night Up North. She's galvanized into action, hurtling along winding rural roads to get help for her canine companion, bleeding in the back seat. At the Last Resort, a local beer joint, she encounters Bud Foster, the bar's on-the-wagon owner with a fearsome secret, who takes her and the wounded dog to the local vet.
A twinned double plot escalates from this point through the rest of this action-packed novel: one subplot involves a continuing ecological debate -- to kill or preserve wolves -- and the other, a zany mission dubbed "Thundersnow," involving a search for buried treasure Dillinger is reputed to have left when he and Baby Face Nelson made their getaway in 1934. A pair of locals in their mid-70s -- Ginger, a bossy, frizzy-haired bartender, and her ladylike friend Lily -- challenge Natalie to help them find the mobsters' loot said to be buried nearby.
Along the way there's romance for Natalie with a retired wolf biologist; the thawing of a strained relationship with her sullen 14-year-old granddaughter, Minnow, visiting from New York; a "Road Kill" July 4th picnic, and some surprising revelations about Natalie's grandparents' dog. This would be a great book to bring along on vacation -- light, amusing and compulsively readable.
Kathryn Lang, for 20 years editor of SMU Press in Dallas, is now a freelance editor and reviewer.