"The Last Ranger" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Any reader who’s been to Yellowstone will revel in “The Last Ranger.” Author Peter Heller entices once again, adding another exciting entry into his growing list of adventure/survivalist tales that include “The Guide,” “The River” and more.
Yellowstone Park Ranger Ren Hopper is a good guy, but he's pretty fed up with tourists who flock into the park in droves, misusing the land and its animals. Given the accident that kicks off this story that’s understandable. A young couple, whose judgement is impaired by alcohol, hits a park buffalo with their vehicle.
It’s the first of many instances of conflict between man and nature, with man winning out in a series of disturbing scenarios. The park’s wolf packs bear the biggest brunt of abuse, something that rankles Ren and his longtime friend Hilly, a learned, respected expert on wolves who has devoted her life to understanding and protecting them.
Hilly’s cabin is located close to Ren’s. The two are about the same age, enjoy one another’s company, and appreciate the shared affection and concern they have for the wolves. Lately, they are particularly disturbed because seven “leg traps” have been discovered. Someone is poaching, and leaving a red ribbon attached to each of the traps. This infuriates Hilly, who wants to take matters into her own hands. She’s almost sure who’s doing the poaching, a man she’s had words with in a local bar and who has threatened her.
Other infractions occur in Yellowstone—another ranger has his tires slashed, Ren finds a threatening note on his truck, and an osprey is shot. These incidents could be attributed to a group of self-centered, greedy men who want Yellowstone’s regulations changed to serve their needs. Ren is determined to find out who’s responsible, his ire escalating to fury when Hilly is seriously injured stepping into a trap, a photo of her circulated as she lay bloodied and unconscious.
As Ren strives to uncover the culprit, or culprits, his backstory is revealed, Heller offering an empathic portrait of his relationship with his parents and his late wife. Ren has known the heartache of tragic loss and isn’t about to succumb again.
“The Last Ranger” brings Yellowstone to life, its woodlands and fields beautifully rendered enabling readers to create mental pictures and imagine the wilds of this magnificent national park. Against this gorgeous backdrop, Heller places paltry humans who overstep the bounds of acceptable behavior, endangering themselves, and the park’s animals, to get a photo to impress their Instagram followers.
Though this book is fiction, its message couldn’t be more spot-on.