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John Straley

Sixty seconds with John Straley...

John Straley is a novelist, poet and private investigator living in Sitka, Alaska. His crime novel, So Far And Good, will be published in December 2021. He was appointed as the twelfth Alaska Writer Laureate in 2006. The University of Alaska in Fairbanks awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2008. His work has been featured on Fresh Air with Terry Gross and CBS Sunday Morning. John Straley lives in a bright green house on the water with his wife Jan, a noted marine biologist.

RTE: Describe yourself in a sentence?

Straley: I went to high school in a Manhattan boys school but my father wanted me to be a cowboy, so I took refuge in books.

RTE: What's the one record you'd take to a desert island?

Straley: Wicked Grin, the songs of Tom Waits recorded by John Hammond

RTE: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Straley: A crime-solving cowboy.

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March 26 2022

Admittedly, one feels somewhat uncomfortable indulging a taste for fictional murder when actual murder is occurring in Europe at this moment on a scale not seen for many years. In defence, most of these books were read and reviewed weeks ago, when crime as a fictional genre seemed a largely harmless entertainment. So here's what we read last month.

We begin with THE ECHOES, by Jess Montgomery, set in rural Ohio in 1925. This is the fourth in a series and Rebecca Nesvet warmly endorses the lot, noting that this entry provides an "epic crescendo" to what has gone before while raising still relevant questions about how "trauma trickles through generations of families, communities, and nations."

DON'T KNOW TOUGH by Eli Cranor is a debut set in rural Arkansas and one I found unusually accomplished. Cranor is a former professional football player and his subject here is the role the game, especially as worshipped in the smaller towns and cities of the US, plays in the character formation of teenaged young men. There's no cheerleading here, but a depth of empathy and understanding that ought not to be missed.

We have some historically-oriented novels of interest today. DISAPPEARANCE OF A SCRIBE, by Dana Stabenow, is about as historical as you can get, set as it is in Egypt, in 47 BCE, in the reign of Cleopatra. Lourdes Venard observes that Stabenow may have moved from Alaska to Alexandria but she carries with her her strong story-telling talents that her fans appreciate.

Books do not need to be historically set to have historical interest. C.J. Box's Joe Pickett series is set in contemporary back-country Wyoming, but echoes of 20th century horrors play a role in a mystery that Pickett is impelled to investigate. Anne Corey found SHADOWS REEL both compelling and satisfying. Rebecca Nesvet was less enthusiastic about THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE by Tara Isabelle Burton. This too is set in the present day, in a posh Maine boarding school, and is haunted to a degree by the spiritual presence of a deceased alumnus who fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of Franco and the Fascists. "Predictable" is the kindest adjective Rebecca has for this one.

In some ways, posthumous publication, especially after some years have elapsed since the author's death, results in a kind of historical novel. Donald E. Westlake died in 2008 and his CALL ME A CAB has been waiting ever since to see the light of day. Hard Case Crime has finally obliged and Jim Napier is delighted with this "vintage Westlake." Jim promises that "it will keep you enthralled until the very last page." Unfortunately, I was less than taken with the late Kay Dick's THEY, first published in 1977 and out of print since. This is a dystopia set in rural Sussex in which nameless squads of people go about savaging artists for daring to be creative. Its republication has attracted some considerable praise from some very reputable people but I'm afraid I do not share their enthusiasm.

We have a really varied and interesting group of books in translation this time. I'm not certain but I think that THE OLD WOMAN WITH THE KNIFE by Gu Byeyong-Mo may be the first piece of crime fiction translated from Korean that we have ever reviewed. Meredith Frazier is very enthusiastic about this, especially for the richness of its characterizations. She hopes that now we can expect more English versions of this author's work. Carlos Ruiz Zafon, who died in 2020, left behind a number of short stories that have now been collected in THE CITY OF MIST. Lourdes Venard says that these Gothic-flavoured tales were intended by Zafon to be published after his death, a circumstance that makes one of them especially touching. Sara Blaedel's A HARMLESS LIE, translated from the Swedish, centres on a familiar circumstance in mystery - the discovery of a long-dead body of a girl. The circumstance may be familiar, but Anne Corey says that the "characters in this haunting novel have depth, intricate back stories and complicated relationships," so that it is both haunting and worthwhile.

Two food-related cosies this week. CHEDDAR OFF DEAD, by Korina Moss, centres on a cheese shop, which will come as no surprise. But P.J. Coldren tells us that this is a very good start to what should be a tasty series and we'll learn something about cheese along the way. Rebecca Nesvet reports that Valerie Wilson Wesley's A FATAL GLOW does have the requisite elements of a food-oriented cosy - food descriptions, some recipes, and a charming cat. But she says it "incorporates just enough social realism and genuine danger to make it more vivid and urgent than most cozies." She adds "You won't be able to put it down—or stop thinking about it once it's finished.

Ruth Castleberry enjoyed Brad Meltzer's THE LIGHTNING ROD, the second in the Vic and Nola series. She says that it is "a riveting tale with lots of characters to track, unexpected twists, and a good bit of background on the various primary players all of which make for a riveting read." On the other hand, Rebecca Nesvet found that ANIMALS, by Will Staples, in which the crime is animal poaching, brought nothing much new to an understanding of this trade.

Our guest this week is John Straley and you can make his acquaintance over in the Sixty Seconds With... box to your left.

Our friends across the sea have been busy keeping up with what is going on in British crime. You can find out what they thought of it at CRIMEREVIEW.

And that about does it for March. Let us hope that next month, as Spring takes a firmer hold on us all, the world will be altogether a brighter, calmer, and more pleasant place. Whether it is or not, we hope to be here again and hope you will join us.


The Editors:

Yvonne Klein

Rebecca Nesvet

P.S. If you wish to submit a book for review, please check here before contacting us. Please note that we do not review self-published books.

Our mascot and masthead is Smokey the Cat. Smokey the cat went to the great playground in the sky on April 29, 2008, at 3:30 p.m. He was about 13 years old, had diabetes and only 11 teeth left. He is much happier now. He will remain as our masthead and mascot.

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