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by John Straley
Soho Crime, February 2014
298 pages
ISBN: 1616953063

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Miles McCahon is worried about his elderly mother. As the nearest thing to a doctor in Cold Storage, Alaska, the physician's assistant, knows something's wrong, and he wants her to get some tests done in Sitka. She's not interested. She's lived long enough. The only thing she wants is to see her other son, Clive, walk through her door. Clive was born restless and left town as a teenager. Even though a state trooper has warned Miles that his drug-dealing brother might be headed home after a seven-year stretch in prison, he doesn't think it'll happen.

But Clive does return with a surly pit bull that he accidentally acquired on the way home. He settles in, rebuilding on the ruins of a bar, which does double duty as a church in order to satisfy a town ordinance. As Clive works on reinventing his life, Miles tries to catch a king salmon, a man named Mouse goes missing, another resident decides to kayak to Seattle to meet the Dalai Lama, and life in the small, eccentric town of Cold Storage goes on.

Back in Seattle, Clive's former business partner Jake is sore about some money Clive withdrew from his stash, money Jake considers rightfully his. But when he heads up to Alaska to get the money back and, if necessary, put a bullet through Clive, he can't help thinking about what he would really like to be doing writing screenplays.

Though there are criminal elements in Strayley's plot, crime is not the focus. Rather, it's a loving, evocative portrait of an Alaskan community full of characters whose various schemes and dreams provide plenty of forward momentum. Strayley, a criminal investigator for the state of Alaska, won a Shamus award for his first mystery, THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED A BEAR, which introduced the Cecil Younger series. His most recent book, THE BIG BOTH WAYS (2008), is a historical novel about the original owners of Clive's bar. This story returns to Cold Storage to see how things have played out over the years.

In an afterward, Straley describes the book as a tribute to the screwball comedy, adding "I am an oddball in the crime writing world in that I do not recognize revenge as the lifeblood of a great plot. Instead, after almost thirty years as a criminal investigator as well as a writer, I still believe that love and compassion are what move through the hearts of all great characters." These are qualities that infuse this poetic, entertaining variation on the genre.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, January 2014

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