Laura McHugh’s previous novels (The Weight of Blood, Arrowood) have won or bee nominated for awards, bringing the Midwest to life in each stunning portrayal. In The Wolf Wants In, she uses her strengths of language and pathos to what is essentially a mystery, while at the same time balancing that with effective and complex characters.

Told in two points of view months apart that eventually overlap, the device gains momentum at the weeks converge to a stunning climax.

Sadie Keller is a social worker who can’t let the sudden death of her brother, Shane, fade lightly. Determined that there’s more to investigate, she isn’t able to get the local detective to take her seriously. With her daughter off at her ex-husband’s house during the week for a better school option, she has the time to talk to people and sniff around, using her older sister as a sounding board.

When a child’s skull is found in the woods, that death overshadows any help Sadie might have received. But Sadie makes it her mission to keep looking, all while working full time, taking care of her brother’s ill dog, and caring for her daughter at weekends.

Henley Pettit knows her family are talked about in town. With relatives selling drugs as their side business, an addicted mother in and out of jail or rehab, she’s had to bring herself up in rural Kansas. There are loyalties to some, but more to herself, as she tries to save from her cleaning job for the trip that will take her to the cool mountains of Colorado where she yearns to reinvent herself, away from her history and the influence of others.

There are few good choices but many good people living in rural areas, with the struggle of opioid addiction affecting far too many families, its tendrils snaking into poverty, robbery, murder and more. McHugh shows how this impacts these families in heartbreaking and sad ways of betrayal.

Yet there is an element of hope and light in this story that makes the resolution even more bittersweet. An insightful journey of these two women who will know each other only tangentially, but whose impact on each other will be felt for decades. Highly recommended.