‘Hollow Beasts’ – Jodi Luna #1 by Alisa Lynn Valdés

After a long stint in academia, Jodi Luna leaves Boston for the wilds of New Mexico to start a new life as a game warden. Jodi is no stranger to the wilderness; her family has lived here for generations. Determined to protect her homeland, she nabs a poacher in her first week on the job.

But when he retaliates by stalking Jodi and her teenage daughter, a cat and mouse game leads Jodi to a white supremacist group deep in the mountains. She learns that new recruits are kidnapping women of color to prove their mettle to the organization’s leader.

When the local sheriff refuses to assist, Jodi joins up with young deputy Ashley Romero. Together, they set out to take down a terrorist network that will test not just their skills as investigators but also their knowledge of the land and commitment to its people.

I don’t have a good history with books about Game Wardens. Three years ago, I abandoned ‘The Poacher’s Son’, the first book about Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch because I found Mike so nice and so calm that he bored me. This year, I abandoned ‘In Plain Sight’ the sixth book in the series about Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett because I decided I really didn’t like Joe anymore.

Still, I like the idea of stories about Game Wardens so I decided to try ‘Hollow Beasts’, the first book in a brand new series about New Mexico Game Warden Jodi Luna. Now, I have a Game Warden I can look forward to reading about.

‘Hollow Beasts’ was a breath of fresh air. What a difference it makes when your Game Warden is a Hispanic woman in New Mexico rather than a white man in Wyoming. 

‘Hollow Beasts’ is also a real page-turner, As soon as I started it, I wanted to sit down and read it until it was done.

Some of it, especially the start, is a tough read. The plot involves a White Supremacist terrorist group that behaves like a cult. Their hate and acts of violence against women were graphic, credible and repugnant. I spent a lot of the rest of the book waiting for these guys to get their arses kicked. I wasn’t disappointed.

This is an entertaining and engaging book. It’s also one which seemed to me to have a clear agenda: expose the twisted thinking and behaviour of white supremacists fighting their ‘war’ against The Great Replacement’, to remind people of the history of New Mexico, including how it became part of the United States, and to show how strong, well-armed, women can work together to put an end to violent men. Most of the time, that agenda provided more energy to move the action forward and to help to define the characters and the culture that they live in. Once or twice, it felt more didactic than that. If it wasn’t so closely based on the reality of the current situation, it might have felt like propaganda.

It was rescued from that by two things: I liked Jodi and her daughter and the newly-returned-to-town police detective she was working with; the clever way that Valdés built tension throughout the book, keeping me focused on the action and the risk rather than on the bigger political picture.

Parts of the plot did involve some remarkable co-incidences, mainly with regards to things that establish key relationships for Jodi Luna. I was happy to swallow these because they didn’t mess with the main action of the plot or its resolution and because the relationships that were established set up the potential for some interesting twists and turns in the next few books in the series.

I’ll certainly be back with Jodi Luna in New Mexico when the next book comes out.

Alisa Lynn Valdés is an American journalist and novelist from New Mexico. She was a staff writer with The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times.

She published twelve novels between 2003 and 2013, starting with The Dirty Girls Social Club.

Hollow Beasts is her first book in a decade and is the start of a new series.

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