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Bookends: Murder and Mystery at the Top of the World February 7, 2016

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Bookends: Murder and Mystery at the Top of the World

By Dan Davidson

October 28, 2015

– 986 words –Sundown

 

Sundown on Top of the World

By R.E. Donald

Proud Horse Publishing

306 pages

$18.95

 

R.E. Donald’s latest mystery begins in 1972, near Johnson’s Crossing, Yukon. RCMP Constable Hunter Rayne has been called to investigate a disappearance at a trapper’s cabin off in the woods. Another trapper has found what looked like a death scene at the cabin owned by Martin Blake and has brought Rayne out there by snowmobile to investigate. Rayne finds what appears to be the site of a bear attack. No sign of the Blake’s body, but lots of blood.

There are also pretty clear indications that there had been a young woman at the cabin. The photo tacked to the wall gives Rayne a shiver that will stay with him for years. He had known April, the pretty young waitress he had never quite got round to asking out in Whitehorse. There’s no sign of her either.

There’s never any sign of either body, and the case remains unresolved for the next 25 years, though Rayne thinks about it often. He was a dedicated officer, too dedicated for the good of his marriage, which happened and failed in the intervening years, leaving him the part time father of two grown daughters.

Somewhere along the way a good friend and fellow Mountie killed himself and Rayne soured on the investigative life. He took up long-haul trucking as a way of making a living, but he’s not quite able to shake the skills and instincts he had spent so many years developing, and so he often finds himself knee-deep in mysteries along his routes.

This one takes him back to the Yukon, with his ne’er do well buddy Dan “Sorry” Sorenson riding shotgun. Sorry’s in a sorry state, having just lost yet another job and been kicked out of the house by his wife. Rayne could use the company, although sometimes Sorry is more of a nuisance than he’s worth.

Before we begin the buddy road trip that is supposed to go north to Fairbanks, we make a stop just south of Eagle, along the Yukon River, where old Betty Salmon lives with Goldie, the girl she has raised since she was a baby. Goldie’s a young woman now, and getting itchy feet, hankers for the bright lights. She loves her Gran dearly, but is annoyed that she won’t tell her anything about her actual parents.

Rayne and Sorry break down in Whitehorse. Having to wait several days for parts and repairs, they borrow an SUV and do a little sight seeing: Chicken and then Eagle. There, Rayne is startled to see a young woman the spitting image of the one whose disappearance has haunted him for years. He is convinced she must be April’s daughter. Further, he has been obsessed with that old cold case ever since he crossed the Yukon border, and is now determined to solve it.

His is not the only backstory that we get in this book. Betty has had a very hard life, and we spend a good deal of time in her memories, establishing how she got to be who and where she is. Eventually we learn where Goldie entered the picture and what happened to April, but it all comes in good time, and there are some sidebar tales that also need to be told.

There’s Oliver’s story. He’s a Brit who came to the Yukon to find gold and ended up finding what he thinks is a pretty golden life but, at Betty’s age, he’s finding the wilderness trapping lifestyle a bit hard and so he has set out to travel. He’s a great old guy and he takes a shine to Betty when he arrives in Eagle. Wonder of wonders, especially after we hear about her life, she likes him too, but it appears he might have a dark secret – perhaps a murder – in his past.

The old couple leave town when Rayne starts coming around sounding for all the world like cop in civvies. Oliver doesn’t actually meet him, but gets skittish any way. Oliver gets himself arrested in Chicken and taken back to Whitehorse, where Rayne is planted in his cell as a miner in trouble is order to draw a story out of the polite old man. Rayne becomes convinces he didn’t kill the bar owner who died, but that he is protecting someone that he thinks did do it.

So, there’s the original 25 year old cold case, the question of where Goldie came from, the murder Oliver’s accused of and – oh yes – the search for Betty, who has taken off up river in an under powered motor boat to retrieve some documents she now believes she has to give to Goldie.

In addition, there’s the rehabilitation of Sorry, who is kind of comic relief and more than a bit of a pain through much of the narrative, but who turns out to have actually learned something from the near death of his family life and ends up playing an important role in Oliver’s story.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and Ruth Donald has done a great job of weaving it all together in an engaging way.

The settings are all a little off, but she has wisely chosen to concentrate on the ambience of the places rather than the specifics, and so her accounts of Whitehorse, Dawson, Chicken and Eagle have a good feel to them even if they are somewhat vague. Being set nearly 20 years ago helps achieve that.

Sundown on Top of the World is the fourth book in the Hunter Rayne series. Each of them features the former Mountie finding a mystery along a particular road. The earlier titles are Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, Ice on the Grapevine and Sea to Sky.

 

-30-

 

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