Cold Storage, Alaska

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An offbeat, often hilarious crime novel set in the sleepy Alaskan town of Cold Storage from the Shamus Award winning author of the Cecil Younger series.
Cold Storage, Alaska, is a remote fishing outpost where salmonberries sparkle in the morning frost and where you just might catch a King Salmon if you’re zen enough to wait for it. Settled in 1935 by Norse fishermen who liked to skinny dip in its natural hot springs, the town enjoyed ...

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Cold Storage, Alaska

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An offbeat, often hilarious crime novel set in the sleepy Alaskan town of Cold Storage from the Shamus Award winning author of the Cecil Younger series.
Cold Storage, Alaska, is a remote fishing outpost where salmonberries sparkle in the morning frost and where you just might catch a King Salmon if you’re zen enough to wait for it. Settled in 1935 by Norse fishermen who liked to skinny dip in its natural hot springs, the town enjoyed prosperity at the height of the frozen fish boom. But now the cold storage plant is all but abandoned and the town is withering. 

Clive “The Milkman” McCahon returns to his tiny Alaska hometown after a seven-year jail stint for dealing coke. He has a lot to make up to his younger brother, Miles, who has dutifully been taking care of their ailing mother. But Clive doesn’t realize the trouble he’s bringing home. His vengeful old business partner is hot on his heels, a stick-in-the-mud State Trooper is dying to bust Clive for narcotics, and, to complicate everything, Clive might be going insane—lately, he’s been hearing animals talking to him. Will his arrival in Cold Storage be a breath of fresh air for the sleepy, depopulated town? Or will Clive’s arrival turn the whole place upside down?

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio
John Straley writes sweet crime novels about sad people, of whom there are plenty in Cold Storage, Alaska…Straley strikes the perfect balance of humor and pathos in this story about the McCahon brothers…
Publishers Weekly
At the start of Straley’s offbeat prequel to 2008’s The Big Both Ways, Clive McCahon (aka the “Milkman”) is released from Washington’s McNeil Island Penitentiary and heads for his hometown of Cold Storage, Alaska, after serving seven years of a 10-year sentence for drug dealing, but his problems are far from over. Aspiring Hollywood screenwriter Jake Shoemaker, his violent partner in crime, wants the large sum that Clive has squirreled away, and Jake won’t take no for an answer; Miles, Clive’s straight-arrow brother and the town’s sole medical professional, resents his return; tenacious state trooper Ray Brown doubts that Clive has gone straight; and animals have begun to talk to him. Further complications ensue when Clive opens a combination bar/church, hires a colorful band called Blind Donkey with a fascinating female bassist, and faces a wronged former employee of Jake’s. While there’s little actual mystery, most readers will enjoy spending time with the eccentric residents of Cold Storage. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
After serving time, a reformed drug dealer seeks peace in the small Alaskan village in which he grew up, but trouble hounds his every step. The rumor spread like wildfire up and down the boardwalk in Cold Storage, Alaska: After serving seven years for dealing cocaine, Clive "The Milkman" McCahon--brother to town medic Miles, son of town fixture Annabelle, grandson of Ellie, who opened the first bar in town with her husband--was coming back to town. He'd left 20 years ago, at the age of 15, so not a lot of people knew him. Still, the fact that someone was coming to live in the tiny village, rather than leaving to live somewhere else, was gossip-worthy enough, especially in a gossip-hungry town like Cold Storage. But Clive wasn't coming alone. For one thing, a nosy cop had been coming around, seemingly anxious to catch Clive doing something illegal. And somehow, while picking up a large quantity of cash he was pretty sure his former business partner owed him, Clive had acquired an extremely large, extremely ugly dog. And Clive's former business partner, who was less than convinced that he owed Clive any money, was bound to come looking for him--and the money--sooner or later. But the oddball residents of Cold Storage take care of their own, and Clive is as oddball as they come, especially since he's started communicating with animals. In the author's note at the end of the book, the second in Straley's (The Big Both Ways, 2008, etc.) Cold Storage series, Straley mentions his desire to write a tribute to screwball comedy, and he has certainly done so. The cast of eccentric characters, the sharp, witty dialogue, and the chaotic, frenzied pace of the narrative would do Preston Sturges proud. Readers looking for edge-of-your-seat suspense should look elsewhere, but those who like their crime with a healthy side of humor could hardly do better. Quirky, funny and compulsively readable.
From the Publisher
Praise for Cold Storage, Alaska

A Boston Globe Best Crime Book of 2014

"Straley strikes the perfect balance of humor and pathos in this story about the McCahon brothers.”
—New York Times Book Review

"[Straley] writes crime novels populated by perpetrators whose hearts are filled with more poetry than evil."
The Wall Street Journal

"Straley isn’t prolific, but when he does publish a book it’s a gem... The crime aspect of 'Cold Storage, Alaska' is pretty casual. Straley’s mostly interested in his characters and how they interact on a personal level... It’s always a pleasure to read Straley’s vivid studies of these folks — the slightly cracked, rugged and very funny characters of the Far North."
The Seattle Times

“Thoroughly enjoyable and slightly wacko... Dashes of magical realism mixed with ironic humor reminiscent of the Coen brothers and violence worthy of Quentin Tarantino make this second series novel a winner. Compelling characters and deft treatment of themes like redemption and the power of community take it to a level beyond.”
—The Boston Globe

“Lesser writers look to their characters’ poor choices and attempts to rectify them, John Straley loves his characters for just those choices. Hölderlin wrote: 'Poetically man dwells on the earth.' Some of us wind up in limericks, some in heroic couplets. But damned near every one of us, sooner or later, ends up in one of Straley’s wise, wayward, wonderfully unhinged novels.”
James Sallis, author of Drive and the Lew Griffin mysteries

“What a warm, engaging, profoundly human book this is: its skin crackling, its heart enormous and open. It's a mystery with judicious blasts of violence and dread, but it opens also onto the bigger mysteries—of community, of family, of place. The several lives that intertwine throughout the story reach moments of quiet grace that resonate stealthily but deeply.”
John Darnielle, lead singer of The Mountain Goats and author of Wolf in White Van

"[Cold Storage, Alaska] is part crime story, part screwball comedy, peopled with characters you long to spend more time with."
—Daily Mail

"Surprisingly moving... Straley’s lean prose and snappy dialogue — not to mention the book’s few scenes of swift, hard-boiled violence — will likely remind many readers of Elmore Leonard’s classic crime novels."
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Kind, smart and deeply moving... ‘Cold Storage, Alaska’ is certainly a wild mystery in the vein of Elmore Leonard's ‘Get Shorty’ years or all of Carl Hiaasen, it is just as much an homage to small towns and the people who fill them. What elevates Straley above so much of the competition is how very much he cares about the people and places he writes about.” 
—Alaska Dispatch

“John Straley’s Cold Storage, Alaska is a snapshot of the USA, with its faults and struggling possibilities. Comic, engrossing, exotic yet familiar, it’s precise to the place and its feel, keen on character and foible, full of lore and history, and rich in little off-to the-side sightings of trees, winds, waves, birds and mammals… Over the top good.”
Gary Snyder, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Turtle Island

“A story of a town with nothing much to offer but rain, salmon fishing, drink and gossip--but that's plenty for Straley to work with. Cold Storage may be "a town that gloried in [its] bad habits... clinging to the side of the mountains with no roads, no cars, and virtually no sense of the outer world," but in Straley's hands, it is rich in character, music, humor and compassion.”
—Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

"Straley, author of The Big Both Ways, has created a wonderfully evocative place in Cold Storage. His evocation of nature and human nature approaches the lyrical, and he seems guided by Faulkner’s dictum that the only thing truly worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself."
—Booklist, Starred Review

 “An in-depth look at small-town life... If you think winter in St. Louis is uncomfortable, try winter in ‘Cold Storage, Alaska.’”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Fast-paced and funny as hell.”

"If you've never been to Alaska, this novel will take you to its wilderness and small town areas in a most convincing manner. If you have been to Alaska, you will feel very at home in the pages of this diverting novel."
—Deadly Pleasures

“The cast of eccentric characters, the sharp, witty dialogue, and the chaotic, frenzied pace of the narrative would do Preston Sturges proud… Those who like their crime with a healthy side of humor could hardly do better... Quirky, funny and compulsively readable.”

“Like the Coen brothers on literary speed, John Straley is among the very best stylists of his generation. Cold Storage, Alaska is truly stunning, poetic, and smart.”
Ken Bruen, Shamus Award winning author of The Guard

“The nature of small-town life is perfectly rendered here, as are the wonders of coastal Alaska... [For] those who appreciate an unusual location and set of characters in their mysteries.”
Library Journal

“Don't think Westlake for this caper crime novel, though; think Clyde Edgerton maybe, or a tender, kinder version of Janet Evanovich … What makes Straley (a criminal investigator in the ‘real’ Alaska) and his books stand out is the way his characters treat each other: with a reliable sense of love and awe... [A] wacky and enjoyable romp.”
—Beth Kannell, Kingdom Books, Waterford, VT

“Straley reveals his characters with unflinching pride and doesn’t mock or belittle their unique take on life… His description of the human condition as played out by his band of characters ranges from pathetic to amazingly humorous… A joy to read.”
The Durango Herald

Cold Storage, Alaska is by turns funny, serious, frightening, philosophical, exaggerated... and intimate. It is filled with odd situations and the kind of offbeat characters that keep your attention glued to the page... [A] very special read.” 
—Kittling Books

“Straley gives us an Alaskan town frozen in time and in its ways; and then, by masterful degrees, he shows us its vibrant, violent thaw.”
—Sam Alden, author of It Never Happened Again

“Readers will enjoy spending time with the eccentric residents of Cold Storage.” Publishers Weekly

" so many exceptional works in this genre, Cold Storage, Alaska shows that extreme circumstances can occasionally force people to be stronger and more resilient than they thought possible. Straley accomplishes all of this with a bare minimum of violence and not a serial killer in sight.”
—Kirkus Reviews Blog

“[A] delightful, fast-moving novel packed with colorful misfit characters… Straley's talented prose leaves the reader with a smile on his face, eagerly awaiting the next installment in this series.”
—Nancy Simpson-Brice, Book Vault, Oskaloosa, IA

“[Cold Storage, Alaska] has the tone of an ensemble comedy… A marriage of ‘Northern Exposure’ with ‘Waking Ned Devine.’”
Anchorage Daily News

“Quirky the people of Straley's Cold Storage may occasionally be, but they are never less than real, with their struggles, their dreams, their failures and modest successes, and their binding sense of community that lightly overlays their fierce if sometimes false self-reliance… A gem of story, marvelously told, that repays the reader many times over for the reading.”
The Drowning Machine

“A loving, evocative portrait of an Alaskan community full of characters whose various schemes and dreams provide plenty of forward momentum.”
—Reviewing the Evidence

“Speaking of literary miracles, read John Straley's new novel ‘Cold Storage, Alaska.’ It is so good. A comedy, a love story, a true-to-life small-town Alaska tale, plus there's a great dog in it. I loved it. I wish I wrote that book.”
—Heather Lende, author of Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs and If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name

A quirky, fun novel, in the same vein as Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen. Straley has brought together a quirky cast of characters which might well fit into any small town in America.”
–Mysteries Galore

“If the frigidity and minimalism of Scandinavian noir has worn you down a little, grab Cold Storage, Alaska for a lighter look at life and crime in a cold place. You may end up wanting to go there.”
—Crime Fiction Lover

Praise for John Straley

“Chandler, Ross Macdonald, James Crumley... Straley proves once again that he is up there with the great ones.”
Chicago Tribune

“Now and then a writer dares to flout the rules and in so doing, carves out a niche that belongs to him alone. John Straley's novels are like no others.”
San Diego Tribune

“Like James Lee Burke, Straley transcends the genre.... Marvelous.”
The Tampa Tribune and Times

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
Cold Storage is the hometown of Clive McCahon, who has just been released from a Washington State prison after serving a sentence for dealing drugs. His brother Miles, an army vet-turned-physician's assistant, still lives in the small fishing village with their aging mother. Clive heads home with a pile of money (which he is careful to point out is only what he personally earned) and a very large and willful dog. Unfortunately, his former boss in the drug business (who dabbles in screenwriting) is having cash-flow problems and sees the money as his. The arrival of these newcomers, along with a nosy, by-the-book state trooper, soon causes upheaval in Cold Storage. Clive's plan is to open a bar/church (the church part is to comply with a town ordinance that says the number of bars can't be more than the number of houses of worship). Most everyone is happy with this, but complications inevitably ensue. VERDICT The nature of small-town life is perfectly rendered here, as are the wonders of coastal Alaska. Not quite as madcap as Carl Hiassen (although there is the occasional talking animal) and not quite as hard-boiled as Michael Connelly or Elmore Leonard, Straley's (Cold Water Burning; The Woman Who Married a Bear) latest adventure in America's last frontier should appeal to those authors' fans as well as those who appreciate an unusual location and set of characters in their mysteries.—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616953065
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/4/2014
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,470,591
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Straley, a criminal investigator for the state of Alaska, lives in Sitka with his son and wife, a marine biologist who studies whales. He is the Shamus Award-winning author of The Curious Eat Themselves, The Woman Who Married a Bear, and The Big Both Ways and was appointed the Writer Laureate of Alaska in 2006.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

            Annabelle had put the tea kettle on just moments ago. Now it was whistling, yet she didn’t get up to attend to it. Recently the past had become a hallucination that seemed to be intruding into the present moment, so she wasn’t certain what really needed doing.
            She had been thinking about Franklin Roosevelt: the grinning man with the cigarette holder, who was never photographed in his frailty. But now it was early spring in the last year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and all the news was about the President’s failings. Flawed men kept ruling the world and the radio in the corner with the long antennae squealed on and on about it. Not that the news mattered much to Annabelle now. It was raining hard and all of the events of her life—past, present, and possibly the future—were taking on the quality of a slightly malevolent screwball comedy.
            She sat in her chair looking out the window. She had been distracted by so many things lately, presidents, family members, and lost animals all swirling around her. The glass on the door rattled, and she looked up expecting to see her uncle, Slippery Wilson, walk in slapping his wet leather gloves against his pants, even though Slippery Wilson had been dead for more than three decades. She found herself listening for crying from the crib, even though both her boys were grown men. The older one, Miles, was down at the Senior Center cooking dinner, and Clive was getting out of prison.
            “Never matter,” Annabelle said aloud to herself. She got up and turned off the radio in the corner.
            Periodically during the afternoon she had been trying to remember the joke she had heard the day before, and she tried again now. It was good, she remembered, and she thought that it would have been good to tell Miles. But the joke, like most of the details of the New Deal, eluded her in its detail.
            Out her window the hillside fell away to the inlet. Alder trees grew quickly on the disturbed ground where the boys had built her house. A gust of wind came, and she thought she saw some darting color. A flash of yellow—she couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like a match head exploding. Yellow with red sparks flaring in the trees. She slid her glasses up her nose and was almost certain that she saw the bird fluttering up and away.
            “Buddy?” she said aloud, as the kettle boiled over and doused the flame.
            On the day he was released from prison, Clive Cahon was thinking about his plan to get home. He had called ahead to order a cab. He didn’t know why he gave the cab company a false name; it was simply the first name that popped into his head and had nothing at all to do with the plan.
            He had hated living in Alaska as a kid. His father had assumed he would become a fisherman. His mother had assumed that no matter how he made his living, it would be made right there in Cold Storage. Only his grandma Ellie had told him not to listen and to dream his own dreams. Having grown up on an island on the north Pacific Clive had longed for the great American Highway. He dreamed of cars and deserts, and long straight roads. Ellie had always given him books about cars, for every birthday and Christmas; cars and guitars, bands he heard on the radio and beautiful girls who didn’t know everything about him. Ellie had understood his itch to move on. Only she seemed to understand that living in Cold Storage, Alaska, was like being born into a small maze, where everyone constantly bumped into one another. As soon as his father died in the Thanksgiving Day storm, Clive had left. He had flown north to Hanes, bought a car, without ever owning a license, without ever learning to drive, and he took off. He was fifteen. Ellie’s ashes had been scattered at sea and his father’s body had never been found, so he didn’t consider that he had anything holding him to his cloistered island town.
            Clive was thirty-five now. It was early April, and the clouds were clearing away after a morning rain. The air was so clean it almost burned his lungs. Clive had served seven out of his ten-year sentence in McNeill Island Penitentiary, and he was wearing his old court clothes: a dark blue suit his mother had bought him, now far too tight in his shoulders and upper arms. Feeling the sun cut through the trees, he set his cardboard box on the ground, slipped off the coat, folded it neatly, and set it on top of the box.
            There were only a few people getting off the prison boat, mostly staff members carrying lunch boxes and rain gear. There was one other inmate, a skinny white kid with red hair who walked down the dock to meet an old man waiting beside a sputtering Ford LTD. The convict approached, the man opened the passenger side door and a woman in a blue house dress got out and threw her arms around the boy before he could set his gear down on the ground. She cried and snuffled into his neck, while the old man rubbed the back of his shoulders.
            Clive shifted from one foot to another, waiting for his ride. A yellow minivan finally rolled up.
            “You Stilton Cheesewright?”            
            Clive was still watching the kid being greeted by the old couple. He wondered if he had seen the kid inside, but didn’t recognize him. He hadn’t recognize the false name the cabby was saying, either.
            “You’re Stilton Cheesewright, yeah?” the driver said again. He reached behind and opened the back door of the van.
            “Absolutely.” Clive set his box of personal effects in the back seat, slammed the door, and walked around to sit in the front passenger seat.
            “You want to go to a grocery store?” He squinted at his run sheet.
            “That’s right,” Clive said. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
            “No problem, Mr. Cheesewright. Would you like me to wait while you shop?”
            “Naw . . . just drop me. I might be a while,” Clive said but then added: “You know a place with really fresh lettuce?”
            The driver smiled. “I think if you want the really fresh stuff you should go over to the Farmfresh store down Sixth. It’s good, you know. They really do buy it from the farmers and everything. It’s a couple of miles out of town, but it’s worth it.”
            “Perfect,” said Clive. The driver punched the meter and wheeled to his left, down the road away from the prison.
            Clive leaned back to watch the fence posts stutter by. He watched the sunlight filter through the evergreen trees and he watched a cow eating in a green field, a rusty bell hung from her neck. She lifted her head as the cab sped past and Clive could imagine the soft clonking of her bell wandering through the air. Clive asked to stop for a moment; the driver put on the turn signal and eased the van to the gravelly edge of the road. Clive thanked him, leaned back in the cab’s mildewed seat, and smiled. He sat that way for a few moments, smiling and listening for the cow’s bell.
            “You do a long stretch?” the driver asked.
            Clive nodded, his eyes closed. “Yes,” he said. “It’s time to go home, I guess.”
            “You want me to get going?” the driver asked.
            Clive nodded again, his eyes still closed.
            “Let’s go get you some lettuce then,” the driver said and pulled the blinker all the way down, rolling the cab back onto the road.
            Clive was both happy and nervous. He had looked forward to this day with an urgency that few people who haven’t been in prison could know. But just as it was happening he felt a kind of raw anxiety. He could not go back to crime, and although he had scrubbed his mind clean he knew that in this world of free men he understood little else besides crime. Crime was now, in his new state of mind, too chaotic.
            McNeill was an old federal prison that had been remodeled as a medium security jail when it was turned over to the State of Washington. The Birdman of Alcatraz had actually done most of his time at McNeill. The main building had the original feel of the place: thick iron doors, WPA style murals on the walls of the mess hall. It could have been a large public library in some small Midwestern town if it weren’t for all the sex offenders.
He had seen arterial blood spurting and painting the shower floor red. He had seen the black holes that hand made knives leave in young white skin. He had heard all the swearing that there was on the world and the blubbery threats made through spit stuffed lips. All he had wanted now was peace. No grittiness. He was done with it. He would always be a sinner, he knew that, but he could at least try not to sin as much. He had thought that even if he could cut back on his sinning by ten percent, that would still leave him plenty of room, while giving him a shot at some minor redemption at least.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 27, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Winter sets in long, cold, and lonely in Cold Storage, Alaska, b

    Winter sets in long, cold, and lonely in Cold Storage, Alaska, but Straley sets us up with a comic narrative that takes most of the vinegar out of the population of “drunks and depressives” and sweetens it with romance. He introduces us to a fiercely independent and strangely cohesive group of folks who laugh (and make us laugh) in the face of adversity and who create the conditions for generosity of spirit. But not all is feasting on “King Salmon Every Day.” It continually astonishes me that characters in a fiction can make one feel actual sorrow and sadness, but we do in this one. Everything is going swimmingly and then something truly dreadful happens.

    It is the year 2000 and Clive is thirty-five years old. He is being released from a seven-year prison stint in Seattle. After a brief detour to eat a fresh lettuce salad, Clive goes to collect his share of criminal proceeds from his pre-incarceration drug sales days. He is aiming for a small coastal town in Alaska where his brother, Miles, and his mother still reside.

    Cold Storage is a failing fishing village of 150 residents on the outer coast of southeastern Alaska, originally settled by Norwegian fisherman who felt at home in the steep-sided fjord-like bay: “She’s hell for snug except when it’s coming straight down.” Some of my favorite passages in this novel come when Straley is describing the surrounding countryside, the changing quality of the water, the luminescent sky, the ragged rim of trees.

    This novel is a little hard to characterize. It is not mystery, but it could be romance, though it is an unusual example of the genre. Falling in love is no more remarkable in Cold Storage than falling out of love. Both provide important entertainment to residents even when they themselves are not directly involved, except perhaps through the placing of bets on the timing of who is falling in or out of bed with whom...

    No, this is a crime novel, though law enforcement is rarely in sight, and is the butt of jokes when it does come calling. This story is all about the ‘crims’ and their extended family of friends and partners in crime. We empathize with these oddball characters, many of whom act much as we have done (though we don’t wish to admit or recall), and all of whom change in the year or so since we meet them.

    Straley claims in interviews “…I do not recognize revenge as the lifeblood of a great plot,” but he introduces a little revenge in this novel that upends his screwball comedy and changes lives forever. Straley then tells us his secret: “I still believe that love and compassion are what move through the hearts of all great characters.” And that’s exactly what we like about them.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2014

    very good, quick read

    Interesting characters-
    Post script from author mentioned this is actually the first book in
    a series. It was published 2nd.
    'The big both ways', book 2, is next for me. GOod author!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2014


    Cold Storage, AL, the town, is itself one of the memorable characters in this genre-bending crime novel. Its plot twists and turns are unexpected, the characters are unpredictable, and the humor is offcenter in the best of ways.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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