The Wildfire Season


Haunted. Scarred. Alone. And the nightmare's just beginning.

Of all the end-of-the-world places he could have run to after he was burned, Miles McEwan chose Ross River.

Buried deep in the vast wilderness of the Yukon, it seemed the perfect place to escape the past. Best of all, he could carry on doing what he did best—fighting fire. But five years on, Miles is still troubled by two phantoms of his previous ...

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Haunted. Scarred. Alone. And the nightmare's just beginning.

Of all the end-of-the-world places he could have run to after he was burned, Miles McEwan chose Ross River.

Buried deep in the vast wilderness of the Yukon, it seemed the perfect place to escape the past. Best of all, he could carry on doing what he did best—fighting fire. But five years on, Miles is still troubled by two phantoms of his previous life: the young man whose agonizing death preys on his conscience, and the woman he abandoned as a consequence.

And in the dark forest around Ross River, fire and violence are brewing. As a small blaze becomes an inferno, a group of bear trackers is about to encounter nature in its wildest form. Elsewhere a killer is going about his work, quietly and ruthlessly. As the survivors of the hunting party are picked off one by one and fire rages through the mountains, Miles embarks on a desperate rescue mission, driven by love for a daughter who, until this dangerous summer, had been a perfect stranger.

A remarkable work, The Wildfire Season is an edgy psychological thriller, a supernatural chiller, a terrifying tale of untamed nature, and an unusual—and unusually moving—story of what one can choose to endure in the name of love.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Canadian author Andrew Pyper's suspense/mystery takes place in the wilds of the Yukon Territory and revolves around a man physically scarred and psychologically tormented by a horrific past -- a past that seems to follow him no matter how far he runs…

An emotionally supercharged, darkly atmospheric novel in which the protagonist's anguish is almost palpable, The Wildfire Season chronicles the life of Miles McEwan, a firefighter who, while working the wildfire season in northwestern Canada, was terribly burned when a blow-up trapped him and his crew. McEwan carries ghastly scars on his face and neck, but the real pain comes from knowing that his decisions could have led to the death of a young firefighter. After the tragedy, McEwan's personal life imploded; he eventually dumped his fiancée, Alex, and disappeared. Five and a half years later, he is living in the middle of nowhere, 300 miles below the Arctic Circle, when Alex finally tracks him down and introduces him to his daughter, Rachel. But when a suspicious wildfire rips through the region and endangers McEwan's newfound family, fate forces him to make some difficult decisions and brings him face-to-face with his deadliest enemy: himself.

In an industry that is increasingly acknowledging and embracing exceptional mystery and thriller authors from all over the world -- Japan's Miyuki Miyabe, Iceland's Arnaldur Indridason, Ireland's Ken Bruen, et al. -- Pyper is at the forefront of a decidedly conspicuous invasion of talented Canadians (including James W. Nichol, Robert McGill, and Ann-Marie MacDonald, and others). The profound and poetic beauty of this distinctly Canadian novel is in its understated complexity. Equal parts adrenaline-inducing thriller, redemptive spiritual journey, harrowing survival tale, and unlikely love story, The Wildfire Season deftly weaves symbolism and allegory into the narrative to create a profoundly moving work of literature that succeeds on numerous levels. Highly recommended. Paul Goat Allen
Marilyn Stasio
Striving for an elegiac style, Pyper commits what might be considered a literary crime in anthropomorphizing the two forces of nature that threaten to devastate Ross River. Attributing human sensibility to the forest fire (“as with all fires, it will have no desire but to live”) adds nothing to its already cataclysmic presence. But in conferring a personality on the grizzly bear that deliberately endangers herself when she lingers to mourn her dead cub (“she inhales what’s left of his living scents”), he creates a memorable character — and a real conflict about which parents and children to root for in his fierce morality tale.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Set in Ross River, a tiny Canadian Yukon settlement, Pyper's subtle thriller develops a sense of dread more from the menace of uncontrollable forest fires and lurking grizzlies than the human predator who remains anonymous until the end. The local fire chief, Miles McEwan, is a loner whose hidden past is revealed when Alex, his vengeful former lover, arrives in Ross River with their five-year-old daughter, Rachel. Meanwhile, a retired executive and his wife come to town for a grizzly hunt, and it's wildfire season. As several fires combine to threaten Ross River's stubbornly independent inhabitants, the firefighters, the hunting party and the bears, an individual is plotting murder. Pyper (Lost Girls) writes beautifully about the splendor and dangers of the wilderness. He doesn't anthropomorphize, but his understanding of bears and fire imbues both with a life force. A bestseller in Canada, this novel offers excellent pacing and credible characters, though readers should be prepared for some horrific violence. (Dec.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Set in the Yukon Territory, Pyper's novel is populated by characters that either by choice or necessity have little contact with the world Outside (as it's always capitalized in the book). Central to the story is Miles McEwan, a forest firefighter who is in self-imposed exile after a fire five years earlier left him with physical and mental scars. When the girlfriend and daughter he left behind turn up, he is forced to face his demons. The story's drawn-out climax involves an out-of-control fire started by a mysterious arsonist, which threatens not only the town of Ross River, but an ill-fated bear-hunting party as well. The very real human story is somewhat at odds with the over-the-top action-movie-style heroics and confrontations in the second half of the book, but many readers, whether they are interested in compelling characters or an action-filled plot, will find something that appeals. Recommended for public libraries. Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A runaway wildfire tests the mettle and reawakens the spirits of a battle-scarred firefighter in the Canadian author's latest (The Trade Mission, 2002, etc.). Four-fifths of a very good novel, this begins splendidly, with an incrementally detailed picture of hard lives in the Yukon wilderness (300 miles south of the Arctic Circle) in the remote town of Ross River ("We're the shit end of the stick out here"). It's a tough town indeed, where fire chief Miles McEwan (who bears disfiguring facial and bodily scars from old burns, along with equally painful memories) commands a hard-drinking crew of phlegmatically heroic firemen; wrestles with the aftereffects of an affair with hunting guide Margot Lemontagne and the hatred of her embittered current lover, Wade Fuerst; and wonders how to react to the unexpected reappearance of Alex, the woman whom he had loved and left before Margot, and the young daughter (Rachel) whose existence comes as a complete surprise to him. Pyper explores their intensifying interrelationships skillfully, filling in explanatory details with precisely timed flashbacks, and disclosing actions from the viewpoints of numerous involved souls, including all the aforementioned characters, the elderly couple who engage Margot's services and-quite imaginatively-a female grizzly bear who loses her cubs to humans and becomes, as much as does the spreading fire which provides the central plot, the incarnation of an embattled natural world patiently, implacably seeking its revenge. Two grievous miscalculations all but ruin the novel. Brief sequences shown from the viewpoint of an unidentified arsonist are never brought to resolution, and an overly melodramatic chain of coincidentalclimaxes drains away much of the credibility built up by the story's rich specificity. The ending toward which Pyper shapes his story is simply not believable. It's a pity: This might have been a truly exemplary thriller. Agent: Anne McDermid/Anne McDermid and Associates Ltd.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312354541
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Pyper is the author of the novels Lost Girls (which was a New York Times and Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year) and The Trade Mission: A Novel of Psychological Terror, as well as Kiss Me, a collection of stories. He lives in Toronto, and his Web site is

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

He must go far, but not too far. Someplace lightning would choose. A tree that is a foot or two taller than its neighbours, one with a drop sheet of needles around its base. Too much regrowth will only lead to a telltale explosion. On the other hand, there will have to be enough fuel to nurture the smoke, keep it alive while teaching it to go slow. The firestarter had assumed the perfect location would make itself plain once he was out here. Instead, nowhere looks right.

There are moments when he thinks he might be lost. His squinting attention to particular corners of the forest makes his head swim when he lifts it to get his bearings. He has never been afraid in the bush before. Then again, he isn't himself, is he? Maybe he would never become lost so close to where he started, but the firestarter might.

Doing this thing, he refuses to think of himself as himself. A split personality, if only for today. It's not shame that forces him to hide—he has his reasons for being here, or a set of compulsions anyway, even if he has trouble recalling them now, so occupied is he by the act alone. He is the firestarter and not himself mostly because it makes it easier. A man temporarily free of history, attachments, implications. For now, he's a soldier on a mission, acting on faith in the wisdom of his orders.

As if folding its arms, the forest blocks his progress. He punches forward, kept on his feet by an elastic web of spruce branches. Once, he gets trapped in a standing coffin of twigs and is forced to hack his way out with his knife. As he thrashes free he hears himself whimper. A sound he doesn't recognize as any he's ever made before.

In time, he finds that he stands in a small clearing. Indiscernible from the dozen bald patches he has already passed through and dismissed as unsuitable.


Later, someone might even figure it out.

It started here.

He snaps the campfire sticks he picked up at the outfitter's in Carmacks into cubes and drops them randomly, one at a time, as he paces. Will two sticks be enough? He decides three would be better, just to be sure. Then four. He takes the tin of kerosene from his pack and sprays it in spidery lines reaching out from the duV he has raked into a small pile with his hands. He thinks he may have overdone it a bit but reminds himself that whatever evidence he leaves behind will be turned to ash long before he makes it back to town.

The firestarter plucks the Zippo from his breast pocket. He pauses long enough to stroke his thumb over the illustration etched into its silver plate. A habit. One that is observed every time he holds the lighter in his palm before lifting the same thumb to turn the flint. Over the years, both in his own possession and those of its previous, anonymous owners, the drawing's lines have been smoothed, the words printed beneath it faded, though still readable. New York City. Atop this caption, the Manhattan skyline is rendered from a thousand feet above the island's south tip, so that the Chrysler Building is a pope's hat in the distance and, looming in the foreground, the twin towers stand guarding all that lies behind them.

They were gone now, of course. He can't believe it was nearly four years ago that he watched them collapse into aprons of dust on TV, then wonders what isn't right about four years, whether it feels longer ago or more recent than that. Not that he'd ever seen them when they were still around. He'd never been to New York in his life. The distance between there and where he is now strikes him as preposterous, science-fictional.

Where had he gotten the Zippo, anyway? A gift, he thinks, or maybe not. He's not sure who gave it to him if it is. It's just one of those mass-produced souvenirs that make their way around the world, a cousin in the family of Maid of the Mist pens and Mao alarm clocks, drifting from hand to hand, the original sentiment attached to its purchase long rubbed away.

The firestarter is ready now. All he needs to do is flick the lighter and touch the flame to the accelerants spilled around his boots. Yet, for another moment, he does nothing but study the words and grooves of the Zippo's face with a pointless intensity. What does he want these familiar hieroglyphs to reveal? Now, after so long spent in his pockets, lying on dresser tops, lost and found in the chasms between sofa pillows?

He's only waiting for the answer to why he has come here to return. Already, he's learned that this is the problem with being two people at once. The motivations of one tend to slip away for stretches so that, acting as the other, he finds himself having thoughts he doesn't know the beginning or end of.

Still, even the intentions of a stranger standing in the woods with a lighter in his hand aren't difficult to guess.

With one more pass of his thumb over the lines of Manhattan, he starts a fire.

Then he bends to his knees, cups his hands on the ground, and starts another.

Copyright &169; 2005 by Andrew Pyper Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Yukon thriller

    Miles McEwan moved to literally the end of the road when he relocated to Ross River in the Yukon to become the tiny hamlet¿s fire chief as he hides from his past though he cannot elude the fiery burn scars that mark and mock his face. Though he drinks a lot to somewhat bury his mental anguish that haunts him, Miles is also aware that he must remain somewhat sober as this is the area¿s inferno season when forest fires tend to go out of control. However, this particular season is going be even more chaotic than any Miles can remember. His angry bitter former lover Alex and their five-year-old daughter Rachel have arrived in town he does not want to see them because they would see him and what has become of him. There is also a bear hunting expedition that is foolish at a time when several fires nearby are blazing. When these separate conflagrations consolidate, the town is endangered. While Miles is distracted by his ex and the inferno, someone sees an opportunity to use the grizzly hunters and the fires to commit murder. --- THE WILDFIRE SEASON is a terrific descriptive look at the dangers of the wilderness used as great background to a fine thriller. The fire scenes are superbly described so that the audience will feel the heat and peril facing heroes. Miles is a solid protagonist who wants no human contact except for his bartender serving him drinks, his firefighting team only in an official capacity, and rescues. The murder subplot augments a tense graphic tale that hooks readers from start to finish. --- Harriet Klausner

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