Greg Starypan’s second novel brings us back to the Alsea River, this time to solve the murder of two newcomers who never fit in to the insular Alsea River culture that everyone who lives along it protects. Wakes on the Alsea tells the story of Grady Riker, a retired zoologist, who writes about and photographs wildlife along the river. Riker’s life is settled: He writes; kayaks the river; makes weekly trips to town to grocery shop; spends time bantering good-naturedly and drinking beer with his neighbor, Dave; and generally, keeps himself to himself, the custom on the Alsea. But events conspire to remove him from his solitary, but satisfying life.
On one of his treks, Riker discovers the body of Harlan Gannett, the California transplant, who had been pushing his “California does it better” beliefs onto locals. Gannett, a former investigative journalist, also had started investigating a local crime that he believed to have ended in a miscarriage of justice. Riker becomes a suspect and then a reluctant investigator of Gannett’s murder when Gannett’s friend, Ryder Driscoll, asks questions about the murder and ends up dead himself. In addition, Riker agrees to help his sister out by taking his “troubled” 17-year-old nephew Spencer for the summer, a commitment he questions before he’s hung up the phone.
The story is populated with a variety of characters who make up the pragmatic, unsentimental people of the Alsea, like Edwina, a cantankerous old-timer, who doesn’t mince words and calls the Alsea “my river,” and Sheriff Whittaker, closing in on retirement and not inclined to put much energy into the investigation. The investigation itself becomes complicated by a reporter, Mason Fowler, who asks for help and urges Riker to take his investigation seriously, connecting it to a string of others in the area over the years.
Riker’s questions expose old wounds, scarred but not healed, and unintended consequences leave him and Spencer open to dangers he hadn’t anticipated. He vacillates between giving up and feeling responsible, as the investigation pulls him away from the Alsea, only to find that the threat is close to home.
In this tale of outsiders vs. locals and secrets held in the hearts of those around us, Starypan reveals his love of the Alseaand the people and wildlife that make their home there.
Both of Greg Starypan’s novels, Crawling Back to Start, published in 2014, and Wakes on the Alsea can be purchased at www.amazon.com.