PUBLISHED: 7:01 PM on Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Book Review: On the run in a dory
John Straley's literary accomplishments are becoming a varied as his biography. According to his website, Straley has worked as a secretary, wilderness guide, trail crew foreman, millworker, machinist and private investigator.

During all of this, he has found time to write - and to write well. Straley has been State Writer Laureate for the past two years. His first six novels were detective stories narrated by Cecil B. Younger, a likeable but unfortunate private investigator living in Sitka.

With Straley's new book, his first in seven years, he shows his literary talent is as wide-ranging as his life experiences. "The Big Both Ways" is a departure from Straley's Younger novels.

"The Big Both Ways" follows the adventures of a logger named Slip who leaves his camp after a coworker meets a terrible death. Slip sets off in search of a peaceful homestead to call his own. Instead he gets mixed up with an alluring anarchist named Ellie and her niece Annabelle.

A few dead bodies later, Slip, Ellie, Annabelle and Annebelle's yellow bird Buddy are on the run from the law and union men with a vengeance. The motley crew paddles furiously north in a dory, fighting wind, rain and currents in the "big both ways river," as Annabelle calls the Inside Passage. On land, the drama unfolds in a Southeast cannery, a Ketchikan whorehouse and a Juneau mine strike.

The adventure is set in 1935 and painstakingly researched. Straley presents the story as a "tall tale, meant to be told around the fire," and by the story's end, readers may feel an urge to share the story.

Fan's of Straley's past novels won't be disappointed. His new characters are flawed yet likeable and find themselves in far more trouble than they bargained for. The descriptions of Southeast Alaska are as hard-hitting as rain.

This year Straley has also released his first book of poetry, "The Rising and the Rain." As with his novels, his verse speaks to the region he has called home since 1977. Southeast Alaskans are fortunate to have such a fine and versatile writer in their backyard.

John Straley will give a craft talk and signing Nov. 8 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Nugget Mall Hearthside Books. He will also sign books at the Hearthside Holiday Event Nov. 9 from 6-8 p.m. at the Nugget Mall store.

Learn more about Straley's work at

- Katie Spielberger