The assignment from the blog editor was simple: Tell us what you are reading now and why. The following originally appeared on this fine website.
When I’m writing a novel, I rarely read anything but newspapers, and I make a special point to avoid crime novels. If I read them, my writing begins to mimic their voices instead of sounding like my own. But when I finish writing a book, I take a break from work and binge-read novels and American history. Last night I tore through Cold Storage, Alaska, the fourth novel by John Straley, who also works as a criminal investigator for that state.
Straley’s publisher markets him as a crime novelist, and crimes certainly do occur in his books, but I see them as novels of place. The setting for the new one is a tiny village on the Alaskan coast, where it always seems to be raining–except when it snows. Hemmed in by mountains on one side and the sea on the other, it is an isolated place, the supply plane that flies in when weather permits it’s only lifeline to the outside world.
Straley peoples this vividly-drawn landscape with the sort of quirky characters one might meet by wandering into the wrong small-town Alaskan bar. There’s Mouse Miller, a drunk who’s in love with a long-dead barmaid. And Miles McCahon, a physician’s assistant (the town doesn’t have a physician) who talks to his outboard motor. And Miles’s brother Clive, a former drug dealer who hears animals talk to him. And Little Brother, an abused brindle fighting dog that Clive rescued. They are the sort of characters the great Howard Frank Mosher (Waiting for Teddy Williams) would create if he wrote about Alaska instead of his native Northeast Kingdom, Vermont.
The characters and setting are so compelling that the plot barely matters, but the book has a good one. To learn about that, you should read it for yourself. I think you’ll love it.