No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Thursday, March 16, 2006

#20: Cold Water Burning -- John Straley

John Straley's novels used to turn up regularly, in ones and twos, in the remainder shops of Greenwich. They're crime novels, set in Sitka, Alaska: his protagonist, PI Cecil Younger, has a philosophical bent, and a refreshingly egoless approach to his work. He shares a house with Todd, his adult ward, who is autistic: he knows everyone in town. And each novel's set against the backdrop of Alaskan wilderness, with Inuit clan feuds and tourist cruise-ships, whales 'the size of tractor trailers', garbage cans rolled and rattled by the gale, ravens delivering omens and premonitions, and the everyday business of seizing a living in an inhospitable, but beautiful, environment.

At sea in a small boat, in a storm: "I could feel the shadow of each wave ease up my back as I sank into the smothering trough."

Cold Water Burning is his most recent book, published in 2001: I hope there's another on the way. It's the story of an old murder case (a family killed and their boat burnt to the waterline) that Cecil finds himself investigating after one of the survivors is involved in another murder. (I'm simplifying to the point of idiocy.) There's a storm. There's a death, and then another. There's a mad artist, and Cecil's relationship with the officer who failed to find the original killer -- an officer who happens to have been his dead father's oldest friend.

In a story, you expect that every single person will be part of the plot, but how does that happen? If your life is a story, a story you revise over and over again in your head, how do you choose the themes? How do you choose the people?

And Cecil quoting someone else: "Some haystacks have no needles."


  1. Sounds interesting. Is it worth picking up an early one to start with or is it ok to dive in to a later book?

  2. You'd probably be fine diving in anywhere -- it took me ages to find the first in the series, The Woman Who Married a Bear, and I don't actually think it's as good as some of the later ones. Check out the remainder shops! (There's a copy of one of 'em in my local remainder place: want me to pick it up?)