JOHN STRALEY – The Curious Eat Themselves. Cecil Younger #2. Soho Press, hardcover, September 1993. Bantam, paperback, June 1995. Soho Crime, trade paperback, July 2006.

JOHN STRALEY Cecil Younger

   I didn’t read the first Alaskan mystery by John Straley, The Woman Who Married a Bear; it was a conscious avoidance, though I no longer remember why. It sold enough copies that I must have been one of the very few who didn’t, and now he’s written another.

   Straley lives in Alaska, is an investigator for the Public Defender and has his own private investigation business; a pretty good set of qualifications.

   Cecil Younger is an on-again, off-again drunk, an ex-public defender, and a private investigator. He lives in Ketchikan, Alaska, has an autistic roommate, and his erratic life just took a turn for the worse. His ex-girlfriend had sent a friend to him, who wanted him to track down evidence of her rape by some employees of a big mining concern. Now she’s been fished out of the water with her throat cut. He’s immediately warned off the case by a high ranking official, and old friend of his family. And his roommate’s Labrador has died.

   Straley’s book reminds me a little of James Crumley with the alcoholic lead, and the anti-business/environmental orientation, and the flair for describing the wilderness. That’s as far as the comparison goes, because Younger isn’t a macho character, and Straley’s prose hasn’t quite the power of Crumley’s.

   It’s good prose, though, and he obviously has a real feel for the Alaskan country about which he writes. He’s a better plotter than Crumley, too.

   Aside from the exotic locale, the story itself isn’t that different from many other hardboiled private detective stories, but it’s well told, and the various characters are interesting. A few of the business and government people are a tad one-dimensional, but at least you don’t need a scorecard to tell the villains.

   There’s a third in the series already, and I like this one enough that I’ll probably read it. I might even go back and read the first.

— Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #10, November 1993.

      The Cecil Younger series —

1. The Woman Who Married a Bear (1992)

JOHN STRALEY Cecil Younger

2. The Curious Eat Themselves (1993)
3. The Music of What Happens (1996)

JOHN STRALEY Cecil Younger

4. Death and the Language of Happiness (1997)
5. The Angels Will Not Care (1998)
6. Cold Water Burning (2001)

Editorial Comment:   Barry seems to have jumped the gun on the forthcoming appearance of the third book. His review was written in 1993, but the third book didn’t appear until 1996.