The Last Ranger: A novel (Hardcover)
August 2023 Indie Next List
“When a national park ranger discovers his friend in an animal trap, it sets up a mystery to be solved — pitting the local ranchers against the park. With a brilliant twist and unexpected humor, this might be Peter Heller’s best book yet.”
— Alice Hutchinson, Byrd's Books, Bethel, CT
The best-selling author of The River returns with a vibrant, lyrical novel about an enforcement ranger in Yellowstone National Park who likes wolves better than most people. When a clandestine range war threatens his closest friend, he must shake off his own losses and act swiftly to discover the truth and stay alive.
“A good story that’s intertwined like leaves afloat in a river with the current of Heller’s descriptive powers… Filled with Heller’s lush writing… Powerful.” –Denver Post
Officer Ren Hopper is an enforcement ranger with the National Park Service, tasked with duties both mundane and thrilling: Breaking up fights at campgrounds, saving clueless tourists from moose attacks, and attempting to broker an uneasy peace between the wealthy vacationers who tromp through the park with cameras, and the residents of hardscrabble Cooke City who want to carve out a meaningful living.
When Ren, hiking through the backcountry on his day off, encounters a tall man with a dog and a gun chasing a small black bear up a hill, his hackles are raised. But what begins as an investigation into the background of a local poacher soon opens into something far murkier: A shattered windshield, a series of red ribbons tied to traps, the discovery of a frightening conspiracy, and a story of heroism gone awry.
Populated by a cast of extraordinary characters—famous scientists, tattooed bartenders, wildlife guides in slick Airstreams—and bursting with unexpected humor and grace, Peter Heller masterfully unveils a portrait of the American west where our very human impulses—for greed, love, family, and community—play out amidst the stunning beauty of the natural world.
About the Author
PETER HELLER is the best-selling author of The Guide, The River, Celine, The Painter, and The Dog Stars, which has been published in twenty-two languages. Heller is also the author of four nonfiction books, including Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, which was awarded the National Outdoor Book Award. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in poetry and fiction and lives in Denver, Colorado.
“Heller writes in lean, descriptive, contemplative prose that often reflects a spirit of solitude…Ren, like his literary creator, is a philosopher at heart; you get the feeling he’d do just fine hanging with Thoreau at Walden Pond…The thrills of The Last Ranger...should resonate with any thoughtful reader who considers the human relationship to the world that was here before we arrived, and, hopefully, will be here after we shuffle off this mortal coil.”
—Chris Vognar, The Boston Globe
"The opening pages of...The Last Ranger will make you want to become a better human. Heller’s style...is Hemingway with the machismo scoured out of it. He can linger romantically on Yellowstone’s atmosphere....But his observations and dialogue are typically as clipped as Papa’s. Still, his tension within the natural setting is more psychologically nuanced."
—Mark Athitakis, The Los Angeles Times
“Heller's best books…have a lickety-split pace and archetypal characters whose behavior makes sense to us partly because he keeps them mysterious, forcing us to fill in their motivations....Throughout the novel there's a sense that good and evil aren't as easy to separate as we'd like to believe. Maybe Heller's point is that the ‘good guys’ are the mountains and the streams and the ‘bad guys’ are all the people who think those things were put here for us.”
—Chris Hewitt, Minneapolis StarTribune
"Heller’s lyrical prose captures gorgeous natural landscapes, captivating wildlife facts, wolf folklore, and a vibrant community of characters."
—The Christian Science Monitor
"A warning about man’s encroachment on the Western wilderness and another variation on the solitary-man theme [Heller] does so well....It contains some wonderful writing about endangered wolves and the obsessive behaviorist who studies them."
—Lisa Henricksson, Air Mail
"A good story that’s intertwined like leaves afloat in a river with the current of Heller’s descriptive powers....Filled with Heller’s lush writing, The Last Ranger is a simple but powerful story."
—Sandra Dallas, The Denver Post
"Heller is back to creating natural vistas that make a reader want to grab a fishing rod and plunge deep into a grove of aspens and fish an isolated creek deep in the mountains. Where the problems of the world are winnowed down to getting a trout to set on a fly you tied yourself....The Last Ranger is once again Peter Heller at his best. I’m not a fisherman, but Heller makes me wish I was one."
—Drew Gallagher, The Free-Lance Star
"The rugged nature of Yellowstone permeates every page of the latest outdoors adventure from Heller, a tale populated with lyrically defined characters....This is wilderness noir at its best, a novel that will please fans of C. J. Box, Craig Johnson, and the legions of admirers of the television series, Yellowstone."
—Jane Murphy, Booklist
"Heller offers an immersive story of a dedicated Yellowstone park ranger and the threats he faces down....Strong characterizations, a vivid sense of place, enough wolf lore to fill several NatGeo specials, and a Boy Scout Handbook’s worth of wood-crafting tips. Fans of fiction about the outdoors are well served."
"Fast-paced, elegantly written....Along with evocative descriptions of Yellowstone’s stunning beauty, Heller efficiently creates a small cast of fully realized characters, most notably Ren, who’s still struggling with grief over the death of a mother who introduced him to the natural world before abandoning her family. But as the author displays in a thrilling climactic chase scene, he doesn’t neglect his obligation to bring what at heart is a nature adventure story to a satisfying conclusion....Life and death in nature are close companions in a fast-moving and lyrical story."
"When describing wildlife and landscapes, [Heller] deploys the precision and cadence of Ernest Hemingway....In a subplot, Heller also dramatizes another threat to our national parks: militias and business interests who want to turn public land into private holdings. Heller’s swift environmental thriller reminds us that humans are the most successful predators—but not the only predators."