What: Diane Les Becquets discusses “The Last Woman in the Forest”

When: April 27, 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Where: Sunriver Books & Music, 57100 Beaver Drive, Building 25-C

Cost: free, registration requested

Contact: sunriverbooks.com or 541-593-2525

Diane Les Becquets’ career was in high gear in early 2016. She was a professor of English at Southern New Hampshire University, had published three young adult novels and her first work of literary fiction, “Breaking Wild,” was on its way to becoming a best-seller.

But Les Becquets (pronounced “lay behk”) had been haunted for several years by the story of the Connecticut River Valley killer, who murdered at least six women in and near New Hampshire in the 1980s and was never captured. Having survived a violent sexual assault as a teenager at the hands of a man who later murdered a woman, Les Becquets found herself compelled to tell a story that would highlight the vulnerability and resilience of women.

“I had also been exploring the idea of a female conservation canine handler as the protagonist of a story, and then in early 2016, the idea for ‘The Last Woman in the Woods’ really firmed up for me,” Les Besquets said. “Once I had the idea, there was a lot of emotional compression that I needed to process and release.”

Les Besquets will discuss “The Last Woman in the Forest” at an event in Sunriver on April 27.

The story combines elements of a psychological thriller, crime novel and a sweeping outdoor adventure tale. It is centered around Marian Engström, a scientist working with rescue dogs to protect endangered wildlife in the Canadian wilderness. There, she falls in love with her mentor, Tate. But after his tragic death, Marian discovers disturbing inconsistencies about Tate’s life that make her wonder if he might have been responsible for the unsolved murders of four women, and if she may have been targeted as his next victim. Marian reaches out to a retired forensic profiler and begins a dangerous search for the truth.

The origins of “The Last Woman in the Forest” stem from Les Becquets’ narrow escape from death at 18 after she was held at knife point and assaulted for 12 hours. Advised that a trial would be too damaging for her to endure, Les Becquets and her family did not press charges against her attacker. Decades later after undergoing extensive therapy that helped her view the incident through a more adult lens, Les Becquets felt ready to bring those new perspectives to her writing.

In part because of her personal history, the idea of the Connecticut River Valley killer and other serial killers such as Ted Bundy struck a chord with the author.

“I’d been carrying about the idea of these women who’d been taken by this killer who was still out there,” Les Becquets said. “I thought about the ways these predators gain their victims’ trust, and I wondered how we learn to listen to our intuition and trust our intuition.”

This notion that people — especially women — need to listen to and trust their core instincts is a strong thread running throughout the novel. As an avid outdoor enthusiast, Les Becquets feels an affinity with nature and great respect for the survival instincts of animals. Her vivid descriptions of the Canadian wilderness and the abilities and reactions of the tracking dogs that Marian works with, serve as a metaphor for the intuition and survival skills many people have lost touch with. The wilderness settings in the book also serve as metaphors for the characters’ mental landscapes.

Profound grief and loss are explored from several angles in the novel as Marian deals with the untimely death of the love of her life and explores the circumstances surrounding the murders of four young women. Les Becquets’ nuanced and moving portrayals of her characters as they struggle to cope with tragedy are also informed by her own experiences. As a young adult, she lost her boyfriend and a close childhood friend in car accidents, and her second husband, Shaun Hathaway, died of brain cancer in 2010.

“My husband passed away with so much love, surrounded by family and friends,” Les Becquets said. “Many people think that dying of a disease like that is a terrible thing, but I prayed that I could pass that way, too — surrounded by kindness and gentleness and love and with the chance to make peace with my life. So many people don’t get that chance, particularly these women who suffered violent deaths. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that the last face they saw was their killer’s.”

After previously writing three young adult novels, Les Becquets was at a turning point in her writing career around 2013 when she found the trauma and losses she had suffered were motivating her to focus on different material.

“I never set out to write YA or literary thrillers or adult books,” Les Becquets said. “It’s just whatever story came to me at the time. To be honest, I think I was processing things — different emotions — in my formative years. I went through some interesting therapy after that last YA novel and all of a sudden, I couldn’t go there any more. That’s when I started really coming into my own voice. I think I was a different person as an author coming to the page.”

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