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Bookends: Tales from Along the Highways February 18, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Tales from Along the Highways

By Dan Davidson

December 19, 2016

– 684 words –alaska-or-bust


Alaska or Bust & Other Stories

By Erma Odrach

Crimson Cloak Publishing

379 pages

$25.50 in hardcover

also available in paperback and e-book formats


It’s almost a truism that anyone with even a smattering of literary DNA in t

heir genes will probably end up writing about the Yukon if they’ve lived here for a while and then moved away. That’s why there are so many memoirs about the Gold Rush. That’s why Service and London and Berton all wrote about the place throughout their entire careers even when they were in other places, even, as in the case of the first two writers, when they never came back.

So we come to Erma Odrach, who is mining her memories of a three or four year residence in the north. She sent me this book some months back and we struck up a little bit of a correspondence as a result. She was here from 1979-82, living in Whitehorse and a few places along the Alaska Highway, travelling in the territory and in Alaska, living part of the time in a Squatter’s Row cabin, and ending her stay while holding down a job, fittingly enough, at Mac’s Fireweed.

There’s a generational angle as well, sine her daughter apparently lived in Dawson in the summer of 2015 (if have that right) and volunteered at the Dawson City Music Festival.

The thing about Yukon memories, after 30 years or so, is they suffer a little bit of factual drift. Just how much it’s never easy to say, but all those people who met Jack Lon
on here after he was gone, and all those who travelled over the Chilkoot with Robert Service in 1898 are proof of the type of drift I mean.

So there may be things in the 25 stories that make up this collection that don’t sound quite right, but most of them feel pretty good as far as I can tell. Oh, you can’t drive from Skagway to Haines without doubling back through Haines Junction, (see “Chuck Goes to Haines, Alaska, on the Fourth of July”) but that’s a small problem, a
nd one that won’t exist in subsequent printings of the book, or in the email editions.

The stories range all over the areas that can be reached by the major highways in the territory and the state. Some of them overlap a bit in terms of characters, or refer to events in other unconnected stories. There’s an amusing trilogy about the Three French Guys, and “The Runaways” (about kids in a foster home) has a sort of sequel in “Bush Baby Gets Married”. Quite a few of the stories are quite humorous, but there are also a number that deal with abuse, creeping insanity and hard times.

I’ve been reading this book on and off since October. The stories were good for when I just had a short time to sit and I found them quite satisfactory.



trainCreated by Mike Vago
Illustrated Matt Rockefeller


14 pages



This is an interesting concept book. It is constructed so that the attached small train can be driven around the landscape o each double page spread (seacoast, d
esert, prairie, mountains, small town, large city, and station). The edge of each segment allows you to drive the train around the edge and into the next landscape until you reach the spot at the back of the book that allows you to shut it again. Or, you can drive the train through the tunnel that take you back to the front of the book to do it all again

Should the train slip out of the grooves that are its track, it’s easy to put it back and carry on.

The book seems sturdy enough, It’s hardcover with a cloth backing inside the spine holding the double page signatures in place. There are directions for proper use on the back cover. Even so, it looks like something that you would to keep an eye on while young reader were playing with/reading it.






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

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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.



Bookends: Murder Down Through the Years October 24, 2012

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Bookends: Murder Down Through the Years

By Dan Davidson

August 29, 2012,   Star, Aug. 31/12

– 783 words –

Though Not Dead

By Dana Stabenow

St. Martin’s Paperbacks

461 pages


When last I met Dana Stabenow in Skagway three summers back I had just reviewed one of her Liam Campbell mysteries. She thanked me kindly and requested that next time I tackle one of her newer books. I hadn’t noticed that Liam’s adventures were on hiatus (though the preview of the next Kate Shugak novel in the back of this book has him as one of its characters) and had been treating myself with his adventures as a change after having read the first ten Shugak books.

So here I am, jumping seven books past where I left off, suddenly discovering Kate’s lover, Jack Morgan, is dead and that she has begun seeing Chopper Jim in what seems like a pretty serious relationship. Worse, Old Sam Dementieff, about whom I didn’t recall that much detail, has died and her foster son, Johnny, has grown up amazingly.

It was almost like starting out with a series I’d never read before, but the Park, and the Alaskan setting kept me grounded, and the way she put the story together told me everything else I needed to know.

This is a mystery novel with several layers, one of which is the life story of Old Sam, beginning with the flu epidemic of 1918, before he was even a gleam in his father’s eye. Sam lived to a ripe old age and had a life that very few people knew the details of, back to and including the secret of his parentage. We return to Old Sam’s story every few chapters throughout the book, including a portion that is supposed to have been written by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon and other stories), who Sam met during World War Two while they were both serving in the army in Alaska.

(This is one of those unusual mystery novels that has a short list of a dozen reference books at the end of it. From the note there I’d say that some of the ideas for this novel have been rattling around in Stabenow’s noggin for many decades.)

When Sam died he left almost all his land and property to Kate, and named her as the executor of his will to distribute the rest of it. It was while packing up his books that things began to go awry. Waking up with two black eyes from being whacked on the side of the head with a piece of firewood was Kate’s first clue that she was in for trouble. Before too long there’s a murder to be solved and Kate has been run off the road in the middle of a snowstorm, a further indication that it seems to be personal.

Meanwhile, Jim has had to return to California to attend his father’s funeral, and deal with some other unexpected family developments. It seems there are some mysteries to be solved in his past also. Indeed, his quest is a bit like the one that Sam went through when he was about the same age. This s the smallest thread in the tapestry of this novel, but it is interesting.

Sam left Kate a few clues as to what she needed to look for. One was the cryptic instruction to find his father. Another was the legend of a missing Russian Orthodox triptych icon, stolen before he was born. The other, the one that people seem to keep coming after her for, is a map, one that appears to show the locations of number of gold claims, all of which are located within the tract of wilderness property that is part of her inheritance from Sam.

Somehow all of this is also tied into the machinations of a man that Kate had captured and put it prison a few years earlier (in one of those books I haven’t read yet). This man is still in prison (though awaiting an appeal of his sentence with great optimism) but has clearly managed to mastermind a plot to find Old Sam’s hidden treasures – whatever they may be. He is not the only one looking though, and the fact that there seem to be two sets of bad guys does serve to drag quite a few red herrings across the trail.

Checking things out, it doesn’t seem to matter a lot whether Stabenow’s books are in actual physical print these days. I’ve picked up one of the earlier books I missed as an eBook and another as an audio book. I expect to enjoy that one while driving around Nova Scotia next month.