The Beautiful and the Wild by Peggy Townsend is a riveting suspenseful mystery. There are secrets, the haunting terrain of Alaska, as well as hope. It is a fight for survival by a mother who dearly loves her son.
Liv Russo thought she was happily married until one day she became a hero. This opened knowledge of her past where she was shunned by all. Then her husband leaves to supposedly go on an outing and never returns. A detective informs Liv that her husband committed suicide. But this was also not true when she finds clues that he was alive and living in Alaska. She travels to a compound there with her developmentally disabled seven-year-old son Xander.
But her return is not a happy reunion. Mark has been shacking up with a young woman, Angela, and another woman, Diana who had a son with him, Rudy, ten years ago. Liv feels betrayed and angry and threatens to leave and go to the police to tell them he faked his death. Mark, her husband, locks her in a shipping container for weeks until she appears to acquiesce and agree to his lifestyle of an open relationship. But in truth she is biding her time until she can escape with her son. She must learn how to survive and navigate the Alaskan wilderness of extreme weather, possible starvation, and dangerous wildlife.
This is an exciting book that might remind readers of a “lock room” story that takes place in the Alaskan wild. There are some twists and turns with each character having secrets revealed as the story progresses.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story?
Peggy Townsend: I am a journalist and have written about secrets: those who tried to conceal and those who tried to reveal. I was in our cabin and listening to a podcast about a guy who was a former Marine who stopped the assassination of Gerald Ford, someone in the “closet.” He was outted by the media with the result that his family shunned him. I thought how secrets can be so damaging. It spurred me to think what if someone did something heroic and it caused the darkest secrets to be revealed.
EC: Why the Alaska setting?
PT: I love Alaska. My husband and I spent seven weeks in our van traveling in Alaska. I was thinking how Alaska is the perfect place because it is so remote. If someone was to hide secrets that is where they would go. Having spent a lot of time in the wilderness and the back country. What I learned it to be in tune with nature and be aware of the surroundings. As the main character, Liv, develops she became more attuned with nature.
EC: How would you describe Liv?
PT: She is wounded and flawed. Liv is determined, resourceful, and gritty. All of this comes from her tough childhood. At times she felt humiliated, trapped, isolated, anxious, and yet was able to find her strength. Hardship was good for her because she discovered her true self. I was like that.
EC: How would you describe Mark?
PT: He is based on someone I once met. Someone I did not like very much. He was super handsome, charismatic, but had a hubris that brought him down. Mark is very manipulative and has the women bend to his will. He is aggressive, dark, obsessed, a loner, selfish, uncaring, chauvinistic, cocky, paranoid, and conceited. Yet, he was such a good dad and very creative.
EC: How would you describe the relationship between Liv and Mark?
PT: She felt betrayal, anger, and thought of him as a liar and cheater. He berated her. He liked to make her jealous. When they were first married, she was a follower. She did love him. Although he was flawed, he did have some good qualities. She made excuses for him at first. Later she saw how wrong she was.
EC: Role of the fox?
PT: I liked the idea that a vixen is used to describe a woman in unflattering terms, hard to manage. A fox is a beautiful creature. After Liv sees this fox, it gives her hope and inspiration.
EC: Role of the prison?
PT: I wanted her to have been in prison because of what happened to her mom, inspired by a true story. I wanted her to be able to survive being imprisoned in a container. Having been in prison she learned the terrible lesson, but this enabled her to find ways to cope, make a routine, avoid confrontations, and to figure out how to escape.
EC: Diana versus Angela?
PT: These two women and Liv are very different in how they approached the world. Angela is naïve, needy, young, and insecure. Diana is very independent. Liv is a caring mom. These women never became a sisterhood. I did a lot of research regarding open relationships. There was always a tension and jealousy underneath because of the open relationship. Diana did not care, Liv felt betrayal and would not go along, and Angela would do anything to get Mark’s approval and love.
EC: What about the book Mind, Self, Love by Kai Huang?
PT: I made this book up but did do research and reading on self-help books. Mark manipulated the women to seek his pleasure. He enjoyed having the power.
EC: Next book?
PT: It is also set in the wilderness. A young runaway meets a female recluse in the woods. Both are being hunted for different reasons. They are both trying to survive. My working title is Nobody is Missing. It will be released next year some time.