Novel Destinations: North to Alaska

Alaska: you have to love it; otherwise, you'd leave. These mysteries are written by authors who obviously adore the Great North, particularly its scenery and eccentric inhabitants. Of course, a few obnoxious people have to ruin things for everyone else, so the law gets involved. Curl up with these series and read your way to cooler weather.

John Straley's Cecil Younger is an investigator for the Sitka Public Defender's office with sobriety issues, but his clients tend to trust him, if only as a last resort. By the newest book, Baby's First Felony, Cecil has a loving family that he will do anything to protect. By turns very dark and very funny, Straley keeps the stakes high and the characters well-drawn, with insights into social issues and the folks on the bottom of the social ladder.

Nathan Active is the half-Inupiat Eskimo creation of Stan Jones. Working as an Alaskan State Trooper, Nathan handles the messes in tiny, insular Chukchi. Filled with indigenous lore and loving depictions of the brutally gorgeous landscape of northwestern Alaska, these stories are based on the real problems facing communities in the 49th State.

Dana Stabenow's popular Kate Shugak novels also feature a protagonist of Native Alaskan heritage (Aleut, this time), along with her bush-pilot partner and a wolf-dog. As an investigator in a region known as "The Park," Kate has to navigate state and national politics, then family politics, mostly with her crafty grandmother. Sharp dialog, a dash of romance, and memorable characters are the draws here, along with deft plotting and atmospherics.

Stabenow writes another series placed in Alaska as well, starring Liam Campbell. Like Nathan Active, Liam is the sole law enforcement officer in a small town in the hinterland. The past keeps popping up in less-than-pleasant ways in Newenham, and Liam sorts it all out with wit and a small portion of wisdom that does not always extend to his personal life. It's just one darn thing after another in these suspenseful, tricky mysteries. 

Sue Henry writes Alaska mysteries starring State Trooper Alex Jensen and his dogsled-racing romantic partner Jessie Arnold. One develops a good feel for the varied regions of Alaska and a good education on the ins and outs of mushing in these plot-driven page-turners.

Have more mysteries set in Seward's Icebox? Tell us about them in the comments.

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