Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cold Storage, Alaska - John Straley

    2014; 300 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Contemporary Fiction.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    The year is 2000, and Clive McCahon has just finished his 7-year stint for drug-dealing in the McNeil Federal Prison in Washington.  He plans to head back to his hometown, a small, out-in-the-boonies town called Cold Storage, Alaska.  But first he needs to pick up his dog and a little bit of cash.

    Meanwhile, in Cold Storage, his younger brother, Miles McCahon, is resisting the temptation to leave this god-forsaken spot in the wilderness for someplace more civilized.  But he has their aged mother to tend to, as well as being Cold Storage’s only medic, shrink, and purveyor of sage advice.

    You better watch your back, Clive, because a couple people plan on following you to Cold Storage.  One’s a cop who’s convinced Clive’s going to re-start his drug operation there and has vowed to put him in behind bars again.  The other’s a former business associate of Clive's who thinks Clive’s cash is rightfully his.

    Duffel bags full of hundred dollars bills tend to attract more than one claimant.

What’s To Like...
    If you like stories set in Alaska, you’re gonna love this book.  John Straley spends a lot of time “painting” the scenery, and it works here.  You’ll also enjoy meeting a bunch of characters, including most of the local townspeople, although, frankly, there aren’t that many of them.  I especially liked how the author developed the bad guys, Jake in particular.

    A lot of the supporting cast have their own storylines, including one who wants to go kayaking to meet the Dalai Lama.  These disparate plotlines have their charm, but make the tale-telling somewhat unfocused, and I was left wondering what the main storyline was.  Fortunately, Straley anticipates this and enlightens the reader about halfway through the book: this is a story of two brothers coming to grips with their roles in life, and with each other as well.  Despite its dark moments, this is mostly a “feel good” novel.

    There are a ton of music references, including a number of obscure groups, which I liked.  There’s enough action scattered throughout the book to keep you from becoming bored with life in Cold Storage, and everything builds to a satisfying ending.  Those diverse and meandering supporting character storylines all get tied up in a clever “Months and Years Later” epilogue.  There’s some cussing and sex, but they help give the setting a “real” feel.  This is a standalone novel.

Kewlest New Word...
Mook (n.) : a stupid or incompetent person; a loser  (an Yankeeism)
Others : Gamelan (n.); Tenebrous (adj.).

    In 1935, the town got an infusion of energy when a battered logger, a woman Wobbly, and her little girl with glasses fled the mine strike in Juneau in a leaky dory and made the place their home.  The logger was named Slippery Wilson.  The woman was named Ellie Hobbes.  She was a pilot and a committed anarchist.  The little girl with the thick glasses was Annabelle.  When Slip and Ellie built the first store, the old fishermen complained that the town was growing too fast.  But when Elie turned the store into a bar a few years later, the complaining stopped.   (loc. 209)

    “Did you want to talk to me, Miles”” she asked.
    “Well, not really.  I don’t know how I got into this really, but Billy wanted me to talk to you.
    “About what?”  She took a half step toward him, her forehead furrowed.
    “Well,” he said, “it’s kind of hard to explain, but he wants to break up with you because you saved his life and you remind him of Ed McMahon.”  (loc. 3199)

Kindle Details...
    Cold Storage, Alaska sells for $9.99 at Amazon.  The other two e-books that John Straley has available for the Kindle there sell for $7.59 and $9.99.

“Arguing with Lester was like arguing with the weather.”  (loc. 450)
    John Straley is apparently an established Mystery writer, and my local e-library listed Cold Storage, Alaska as being one.  It is not.  The author blends in a bunch of genres – humor (actually, more witty than out-and-out funny), action, drama, and even some romance.  There was also a smidgen of fantasy, in the form of some talking animals, though that was an awkward fit, and why Straley mixed that in is beyond me.

    Overall, this book reminded me very much of Norman Maclean’s critically-acclaimed A River Runs Through It, which I read years ago and is reviewed here.  Maclean’s book bored me to tears, but in fairness, this genre – let’s call it “warm and fuzzy lifestyles” is not my cup of tea.  Personally, I think Cold Storage, Alaska is a much better effort in this genre.

    7½ Stars.  Add 1 star if you live in, have visited, or are enchanted by America’s last frontier, Alaska.  Add another 1 star if you liked the book, A River Runs Through It.  I don’t know whether to pity you or be jealous.

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