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Bookends: Seeking redemption in small town Alaska January 19, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Seeking redemption in small town Alaska

By Dan Davidson

August 2, 2016

cold-storage– 794 words –


Cold Storage, Alaska

By John Straley

Soho Press, Inc.

294 pages



John Straley gave us an author’s note which provides a clue as to how one should probably approach this book. Despite the fact that it’s been published under the Soho Crime imprint, it’s really not that kind of book. It’s not even the sort of off-beat mystery that Straley gave us with his Cecil Younger series, beginning with The Woman Who Married a Bear, and continuing for another five novels.

There are some crimes and some violence in the village of Cold Storage, but these are not the main event, and some of the perpetrators turn out to be rather sympathetic characters in the end.

Straley notes that he does not “recognize revenge as the lifeblood of a great plot” and in this book the folks who seek after it often find that their lives take mysterious turns away from their original goals.

He says this with some authority, having developed the theory out of his practical experience of nearly three decades as a criminal investigator, in a career that has taken him all over his stomping grounds of southeast Alaska from his base in Sitka.

This is a novel about people, where such crimes as there are, are incidental to the relationships and the personal stories that catch us up and carry us along. Straley says it “was written as tribute to one of my favorite genres: the screwball comedy…”

Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s side-splittingly funny, but it does mean that it has its moments, and that it tends to leave you feeling pretty good at the end of the story.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and Straley gives most of them enough ink for them to grow on you. About the only thoroughly one dimensional character in the book is the Alaska State Trooper who keeps sniffing around to dig up some dirt on Clive McCahon.

At the heart of the book are the two brothers. We meet Clive first, just as he is exiting prison having served 7 years of a 10 year sentence for dealing drugs. During his life of crime he was known as the Milkman, a reflection on his delivery method. On his way home to a place he could not wait to get away from when he was younger, he picks up his ill-gotten gains (this triggering a revenge subplot or two) and a really ugly dog who plays an important role later on.

Younger brother Miles, having served some time in the military, has settled in at home, where he has put his Ranger training to use as the local medic. He is punching well about his training weight in what he is able to do for the 150 or so residents of his hometown, to which he had returned in search of quiet sanity after a tour in Mogadishu. He does a lot of counseling and a lot of volunteering for worthy causes. He’s the quintessential good guy. Presented with temptation, he will stare it down.

There is Lester Frank, the only Tlingit Indian in an otherwise white community that was established in 1935 by a bunch of Norse fishermen. Lester reminded me of the Indian bar owner in the Longmire TV show, quiet but solid, not a cliché at all. It turns out that he has an interest in writing a movie script, something he will share later with Jake Shoemaker, an actual bad guy who comes seeking vengeance on Clive, but who ends up staying and fitting right in.

Then there’s Billy, a local fisherman who’s trying to be a Tibetan Buddhist, and who wants to paddle his kayak down the Inland Waterway to meet the Dalai Lama when he comes to visit Seattle. His saga finds him singing lead vocals in a cruise ship band after he is rescued from the ocean by one of the female passengers. And, of course, the entire group winds up back in Cold Storage, house band in the run down bar that Clive has used his cash to revive after the death of his mother who used to run it.

There’s romance, both deep and desperate, friendship nurtured in the oddest circumstances, joy, sorrow, confusion and clarity in this book. Apparently it’s the chronological first (although published second) in a series that certainly looks like it is worth pursuing.

Straley doesn’t write that quickly (except for the haiku that he produces every morning), but he has a backlist that it would repay you to hunt down. Most are still available in paperback. Some of them have been released as e-books.





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