Volume 13, No. 2, Summer 1997
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Wild Places, Wild Ideals by Roberta Ann Henrich
- The Detective Who Came from the Cold: The First Kate Shugak Mysteries by Nicole Décuré
- The Six Senses of the Wilderness by Dawn Weiss
- The Altar of the Northern Wilds by Joyce Christmas
- Pursuit in the Wilderness by Jim Doherty
- Props of Civilization -- Christine Andreae's City Slickers in the Mysterious Wilderness by E. D. Schafer
- The Wilderness in British Crime Fiction by Philip Scowcroft
THE WRITERS WRITE
- The Wilderness See-Saw by Sarah Andrews
- Florida's Swamp Wilderness: Dank, Dark, Creepy and Indispensable by E. C. Ayres
- A Locked Room in the Heart of Africa by Michael Bowen
- Wilderness Starts at the Edge of Town by Steve Brewer
- The Writer's Wilderness by Sandy Dengler
- End of Fall by Jere French
- The Mysterious Wilderness Within by Sue Henry
- Skeleton Canyon Then and Now by J. A. Jance
- La Frontera by Allana Martin
- In the Maine Woods by Stefanie Matteson
- It's a Wilderness... What Can Happen? by Lise McClendon
- Wild Child by Elizabeth Quinn
- Why I Write Wilderness by Dana Stabenow
- The Forest Prime Evil by Alan Russell
- Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Carol Harper, Harriet Klausner, Gerry Letteney, and Vicki Nesting
- A Mystery Reader Abroad: Fei-ji-chang zai nar? by Carol Harper
- Just Juveniles: Dirty Deeds by Nancy Roberts
- In Short: The Mysterious Wilderness by Marvin Lachman
- Mystery Bookstores by Janet A. Rudolph
- MRI Mayhem by Janet A. Rudolph
- Letters to the Editor
by Elizabeth Quinn (Grants Pass, Oregon)
"The clearest way into the Universe is through a
forest wilderness." John Muir's sentiment has been shared by many
Americans since the European conquest, including fictional characters
from Natty Bumppo to my own Lauren Maxwell. To some degree characters
are stand-ins for their authors, made up not out of whole cloth but
imagined from inside the author's own psyche. And sometimes the words
those characters say, the attitudes they manifest, the actions they
take and the thoughts they think actually astound their creator -- "I
didn't know I thought that!" Which is exactly what happened to me
when I created Lauren Maxwell and set her loose in the mysterious
Not that I should have been surprised when Lauren proved to be a
passionate advocate for wild places and wild things. After all, I
grew up with the wild, spending my earliest summers in the cool,
fern-screened hemlock and conifer forests of New York's Adirondack
mountains, darting down paths cushioned by fragrant needles and
dolphining in waters that mirrored fleecy clouds against a robin's
egg sky. Natty Bumppo knew that forest and those waters.
In adolescence, spring and autumn weekends and glorious summers
were spent in the sun-dappled glades of the Finger Lakes, where
maples and birches added pale green lace to the springtime woods and
vivid splotches of gold and red to the autumn forest. The original
inhabitants of the area were wiped out in Natty Bumppo's time, but
their name lives on in the lake, Canandaigua, and in the legend of
the monster which lurks in the deepest water.
In adulthood, my path took me to wilds of a different sort far
from the trails trod by Hawkeye and Uncas, first the salt-sprayed
dunes and bogs of Cape Cod and Nantucket and finally the
river-creased mountains and forests of Oregon. Not long after I moved
west, a new friend remarked, "Living here must be a big change for a
city girl like you." I startled us both by blurting out, "I've never
been a city girl." Which was the truth, but one I'd not recognized
until that moment. While I had long inhabited cities, I actually
lived in the wild. And so does my sleuth. Lauren Maxwell is a
wildlife biologist who lives in the largest remnant of wilderness in
North America and does her damnedest to preserve and protect the wild
places and wild things of Alaska.
In her first outing, Murder Most Grizzly (Pocket, 1993), as
she stands on a deserted beach on Kamishak Bay and watches a humpback
whale breach again and again, Lauren declares her credo:
In my world there is a place in the sea for whales and
a place on the land for grizzlies. For I know with dead certainty
that if there is no room on this earth for the wild, then there is no
place on this planet for me.
And she explains the special lure and danger of Alaska's
Indigo oceans, lavender mountains, turquoise skies --
that's Alaska. A vast immensity of beauty that's home to plenty of
beasts as well -- the cold, the dark, not to mention the bears.
Awesome beauties and merciless beasts. My kind of fairy tale.
The wilderness adds to life dimensions of danger as random and
deadly as the violence found on mean urban streets, but those who are
at risk are far from easy rescue. In Murder Most Grizzly,
Lauren is certain that the mauling death of a bear biologist is
actually murder, and in the course of her investigation she comes
face-to-face with a very angry specimen of Ursus arctis horribilis:
The [grizzly] whoofed and then whoofed again. When
Belle stopped, so did I, braced for the attack and ready to drop.
Fetal position. On your side. Hand behind neck. What good would it
do? Didn't you see those teeth? Can't you see those claws?
The deadliest beast on the planet is man, and in the wilderness,
Lauren must face that threat as well. In Murder Most Grizzly,
the human threat comes from the air, catching her in the open at the
McNeil River Wildlife Sanctuary, with no means of escape beyond a
Now a zipper of rifle shots chased us, tossing up
chunks of grass and soil. I headed for the poplars.
CRACK-CRACK-CRACK... I bellied forward, angling to the right for a
thick fence of saplings, fear bittering my mouth. My God, [he] had
killed Roland! And he was ready to kill again.
Beasts aren't the only danger posed to wilderness mysterians. Far
from man-made shelter, even those who have plenty of wildwood wisdom
can find themselves stalked by the silent killer hypothermia. In
Lauren's second adventure, A Wolf In Death's Clothing (Pocket,
1995), she brings her young son to the summer fish camp of an
Athabascan elder whose grand-daughter has been shot and left for dead
on her own doorstep and must slip with him beneath the icy water of
the Yukon River in hopes of eluding a sniper:
Cold. So cold. The extremities went first. The toes
seized up, immovable. The feet grew dense and heavy, like rocks. The
hands grew hollow and brittle, like glass. Except where my fingers
twined with Jake's fingers. His touch became my focal point. As our
world withered away, the touch of Jake's hand became my still point
at the center of the universe.
A mishap on the trail can have potentially deadly consequences. In
Lauren's third outing, Lamb To The Slaughter (Pocket, 1996),
set at a conference staged in the shadow of magnificent Mt. McKinley
in Denali National Park, she takes time out from her investigation of
the murder of an Russian botanist to organize a hike to a
newly-formed lake, leading a group of eminent scientists to an
overlook on the lip of a steep ravine, where one takes a nasty
She lay across the hill in a fetal curl, head slightly
lower on the slope, a good position for combating the inevitable
shock. Blood oozed from a nasty scrape on her forehead, trickling
onto the parsley fern matted under her head. Dust dulled the
brightness of her hair, and twigs adorned her crooked French braid.
The violence of her fall had shredded the palms of hands now limp
against the hill and bloodied the bruised knees which poked through
Even when a wilderness rescue seems at hand, the complex
confluence of extremes of weather, landscape, technology and
endurance can push deliverance just out of reach. In Lauren's latest
appearance, Killer Whale (Pocket, 1997), her job takes her to
the mist-shrouded islands of the Alexander Archipelago, where a
global gathering of environmentalists prepare to do battle with
scientists determined to capture 12 specimen whales. The
confrontation turns deadly when the nephew of Lauren's close friend
is found floating in Cordova Bay, and she later battles her own
exhaustion and the relentless battering of the sea to escape a
One foot after the other, hand over hand, I inched my
way up that net. Somewhere below, [the killer] howled with fury...
Somewhere above, another man shouted my name, but I ignored him, too.
The breeze nudged against me, and maintaining my foothold required
all of my concentration. So I looked straight ahead, focusing on the
gleaming white steel of Le Mistral's hull, gratified each time a neat
line of rivets hove into view, wondering when I would reach the first
line of port holes? Surely I'd climbed that far by now? Then the net
slipped and me with it. My feet slid off their toeholds, dangling
free in the air.
Although my path through life has carried me and my sleuth Lauren
Maxwell far beyond the wild Eastern places inhabited by Natty Bumppo
in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking tales, somewhere deep down
the impulses that send us into the wilderness are the same. Some
scholars claim Cooper's frontiersman is the archetype from which the
contemporary American mystery hero evolved, and certainly the lure of
the wild is an enduring American theme. In the mysterious wilderness
can be found all the usual suspects of the genre -- interesting
sleuths, vivid villains, convoluted plots and heinous crimes -- and
more. The dangerous beasts, extremes of weather, remoteness from
rescue and survival dependent in large part on simple good luck add
hefty measures of suspense and tension to the mysterious wilderness
and provide plenty of opportunity for action.
Lauren likes action, and so do I. While I don't carry a .45
caliber Colt automatic or make a habit of tracking down killers, I do
test myself in the wild by rafting whitewater rivers, biking and
hiking remote trails, skiing extreme slopes and pitching my tent far
from car campgrounds. And though I didn't need Lauren Maxwell's help
to learn that I lived in the wild -- my friend helped with that --
she did help me to understand why:
I didn't really understand [my late husband's] need to
push life to the farthest edge, to lean over that precipice and risk
it all... But recently two things happened that changed all
that... After those incidents, the air smelled sweeter, the sun shone
brighter, my heart beat stronger, and I finally understood...
John Muir and Natty Bumppo understood the lure of the mysterious
wilderness, and thanks to my sleuth Lauren Maxwell, so do I.
Why I Write Wilderness
by Dana Stabenow (Anchorage, Alaska)
Well, of course the easy answer is: I was born in one.
I was. I was born in the Territory of Alaska eight years before it
became a state, and I was raised in Cordova, Seldovia, and for five
years on a 75-foot fish tender named the Celtic.
For those of you who think it's romantic to spend one's formative
years traversing the Gulf of Alaska on a boat, let me tell you, they
don't call her the Mother of Storms for nothing. She's mad, bad and
dangerous to know. I remember coming around Port Dick one February in
the middle of a storm, lying on my stateroom bunk, looking out the
porthole as the boat rolled from one side to the other. One second
the view through the porthole would be all water, the next all dark
cloud and driving sleet. I thought we were headed for the bottom of
the ocean. I'm still kind of surprised to have survived.
When people ask about Kate's experiences on board the
Avilda in Dead in the Water (Berkley, 1993), I can say
with perfect truth, "Yes, I have been that seasick."
We lived a subsistence lifestyle in those days, which meant if we
didn't get our moose every fall, we didn't eat meat that winter.
People seem to regard a subsistence lifestyle as romantic, too. It
isn't. It is work, dull, back-breaking, never-ending work. I remember
reading an interview with an Inupiaq elder once, who said that
whatever the problems the villages have now, at least everybody's got
enough to eat. We didn't always then, and in retrospect it seems that
life was one long struggle to keep the pantry filled.
A moose hunt in those days started with a boat ride across lower
Cook Inlet to Kamishak Bay. We'd anchor offshore and take the skiff
in, beaching it above the high water mark so it wouldn't float away
on the incoming tide while we were bushwhacking through the woods.
Bushwhacking is exactly what it sounds like: whacking your way
through very dense undergrowth. Moose like standing in shallow lakes
and nibbling off the branches that line the water's edge, so that's
where you go to hunt one. The journey is not lightened by the
knowledge that when you get your moose, you have to pack him out
again, in pieces, through the same brush you have just bushwhacked in
through, and that before you can pack him out you have to skin, gut
and quarter him surrounded by a cloud of thirsty mosquitoes. When I
was little, my hands and eyes would swell shut from the bites.
Alaskan mosquitoes sneer at Cutter's.
One year of glorious memory we got our moose right on the beach.
Mom brought him down with one shot right behind his ear, a nice, fat
bull. We rolled him down to the water's edge, skinned him and then
gutted and quartered him on his own skin and lifted the quarters
straight into the skiff. No bushwhacking necessary. If we'd had any,
we'd have broken out the champagne.
We ate the tongue, the liver and the heart first, and let the rest
of the meat hang from the boom for a day or so. Then we got out
butcher paper and masking tape and Marks-A-Lots and cut and wrapped
and cut and wrapped and cut and wrapped. A moose is a big animal;
cutting and wrapping could take two to three days. When we were done
we could have as much as 400 pounds of meat in the freezer. We had
moose steaks, moose roasts, moose ribs, moose soup bones. There was
the ever popular mooseburger, which yours truly got to hand grind (no
electric grinders in those days) from all the scraps generated from
creating the other cuts.
My mother could do anything with moosemeat, and did. I remember a
moosemeat salad she made, chopped celery, chopped sweet pickles, mayo
and ground moosemeat. The first sandwich was wonderful, the fifth
okay, but by the tenth you wondered if that jar in the refrigerator
was ever going to empty out.
Whenever anybody asks me, I can reply with perfect truth, "Yes, I
have stood in moose blood up to my eyebrows the way Kate did in
Blood Will Tell."
Why do I use the Alaskan wilderness as a background for my books?
Because I was raised in it, and because I knew there had to be an
easier, warmer and drier job out there somewhere.
Writing about it.
The Forest Prime Evil
by Alan Russell (Cardiff by the Sea, California)
I think it might have been David Browder, founder of
the Sierra Club, who made the statement, "It's not wilderness if
there's not something wild out there."
Something wild. A grizzly. A cougar. A rattlesnake.
In my novels I have placed the mysterious wilderness in some
unusual places: a resort hotel; a southern California park with a
stand of chaparral; a cracked mind. But one book comes to the fore:
The Forest Prime Evil (Walker, 1992).
Like many authors, I didn't have a full blueprint for my novel at
the start of the process, so I decided to take a vacation in the
redwoods. For those of you who haven't experienced the redwoods, do
it. If you want to feel young, if you want to feel awe, look up at
those giants. We've got Tolkien's Ents right here on earth.
I love the "out and about" research part of writing a book. Most
authors are incredibly nosy. Our occupation gives us a chance to ask
questions. So I went around and asked questions, hitting such towns
as Garberville and Ferndale and Scotia. It was an excuse to go
everywhere from logging towns to funky restaurants and bars (where
research dictated I tilt back a beer or two). I went to some small
town newspapers, and studied back issues of the papers. I struck up
conversations over breakfast in restaurants. I took the tours, and I
read the informational books, and like the subject I was writing on,
the novel began to take "root."
When it comes to redwoods, falling branches take on a whole new
meaning. The droppings of these giants, some 300 feet high (a
football field, mind you), become projectiles. The locals have a term
for these falling branches: widow-makers. The term is well earned.
Over the centuries, more than a few people have been impaled and
killed by those falling branches. And for me those widow-makers
became my manna from heaven. The whole time I had known the novel
would revolve around the death of this famous tree-planter, a man
known as the Green Man. So I had the vehicle I needed. I placed him
in the middle of a contested old-growth forest, skewered by a
widow-maker. And so the question became, did it fall naturally, or
was it planted?
At the time I was writing the book, Redwood Summer was taking
place, with activists tree-sitting and even monkey wrenching. Each
side was drawing their line with swords (or more appropriately,
axes). Finding vying camps and controversies wasn't the problem. My
research had yielded over a hundred pages of typed single spaced
notes; I didn't have a lack of information, but a surfeit of it.
There were so many themes, and so much history I wanted to address,
but I knew the story had to come first. I think books fail when
authors resort to the "sore thumb" syndrome (i.e. they hold up their
thumb and say, "See what I know!"). It's the job of the author to
weave in facts, to toss them into the river of the story instead of
placing them there as dams.
And so I endeavored to do that, offering historical tidbits, and
Longfellow's Evangeline, and the story of the mythical Green Man (as
well as his slightly bent modern counter-part). I talked about Johnny
Appleseed, and Julius Sterling Morton, and Richard St. Barbe Baker,
and mused on The Man Who Planted Trees. And, yes, I even quoted
George Pope Morris ("Woodman, spare that tree! Touch not a single
bough! In youth it sheltered me, And I'll protect it now."). But all
of those were just atmosphere to the mystery of the Green Man's
And my protagonist Stuart Winter? I put him in a very troubled
Brobdingnag that had, as I noted, "about as much middle ground as the
abortion issue." I didn't want easy answers in the book, didn't want
one side to be "good," and the other to be "evil." My conservationist
"prejudices" were limited to a few sections of musing and the majesty
of the woods. As Steinbeck wrote in his Travels With Charley:
The vainest, most slap happy and irreverent of men, in
the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect.
Respect -- that's the word.
When redwoods are felled you can count their rings and gauge their
age (the oldest, cut down in 1932, was believed to be 2200 years
old). But humans can't be gauged in the same way, and Stuart Winter
encounters plenty of twists in trying to ferret out "the root of all
evil." Books always bring back certain memories. Most of those
associated with The Forest Prime Evil are pleasant, especially
my tromping around amongst the redwoods, and exploring goosepens
(so-called because settlers used to keep their geese in the hollows
of redwoods -- hollows that can be as large as a typical living
room), and getting excited about writing a compelling tale of the
woods. One bad memory, though, is that after I turned in the book I
asked my agent and editor for another six weeks. They didn't
understand why. Both were very pleased with the book. But I insisted,
saying, "The murderer couldn't have done it." Of course the murderer
could have done it, they told me. You proved it conclusively. To
which I said, "No. I've come to know the characters, and 'X' (I won't
name the name) couldn't have done it. It's not in his makeup. But 'Y'
They thought I was crazy, but they gave me the extra six weeks.
And I'm so glad I insisted on making those changes (and almost
killing myself with 20 hour days in the process). If a book has my
name on it, I want that to be better than the Good Housekeeping seal
The Forest Prime Evil didn't do as well in sales as I
hoped. The reviews were wonderful, but I think mystery readers were
fearful that it was an "environmental novel." Maybe I should have
gone around in a sandwich board that read: THIS IS A CLASSIC
WHODUNIT. Still, I'm convinced the didactic elements only added to
Personally, I thought I was a little too hard on the
conservationists, but I was gratified when Dave Foreman, founder of
Earth First!, sent me a letter saying how much he liked the book. I
also received a letter from a woman in Nebraska who said that prior
to reading my book she thought all environmentalists were "yahoos,"
but that my book had opened her eyes to see differently. So the book
was a success in ways that are sometimes hard to measure. And like my
protagonist, I planted a few redwood seedlings when I finished the
novel. I hope they've grown tall now. I hope true life paralleled the
ending of my novel:
"It was like Jack and the beanstalk time," I said. "If
I didn't know any better, I would swear those redwoods grew as I
"Beware of giants," she said.
Or giant killers, I thought.
"My tree is going to grow and grow," Miss Tuntland predicted.
"And so is mine."
"Race you to the stars."
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