The Big Both Ways Paperback – May 1 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this gripping tale of survival, betrayal and murder set in the Pacific Northwest in 1935 from Straley (Cold Water Burning), Slip Wilson is just trying to find work, food and a little justice when he hooks up with a bottle-blonde, Ellie Hobbes, who drags him into her edgy, ragtag life. At the last minute, Ellie, a notorious red union organizer who faces mounting problems with antiunion forces, and her young niece hop aboard the same rickety boat Slip is escaping on that's traveling from Seattle to Juneau. The odd trio barely catches a breath as weather, hunger, a Seattle homicide detective and a revenge-seeking gang of thugs hound them all the way up the Inside Passage. Ellie isn't big on explanations, so Slip isn't sure until nearly the end of their journey if she's a heroine or a scoundrel. Straley's beautifully understated narrative, vivid sense of place and unapologetic, unadorned characters make this a riveting, unpredictable ride. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I was hooked by The Woman Who Married a Bear. I loved The Curious Eat Themselves. I've read every word he's ever had published in book form, and have a hard time waiting between books.
This last wait was the worst. It stretched on forever.
It was worth it.
This one is the best yet.
We lose Cecil Younger, but we gain four fascinating characters that we'll never forget. Five, if you count the bird.
Slip is a logger who quits when a friend of his dies high in a tree. He is going to 'retire' to a quiet life of farming. Or so he thinks.
In reality, his life is going to spiral around and down like something gross being flushed down a toilet. Every time he tries to escape the latest horrific event, everything just gets worse.
Ellie is his love interest, if you can call it that. He's attracted to her, but is also more than a little scared of her. It's more fascination than love, but just as powerful. She gets him into new legal jams twice as fast as he can get out of the last jam. [Death follows her, and therefore Slip, like a lonely puppy.]
Ellie's fetching niece, Annabelle, helps keep him interested, as in some strange way does Annabelle's bird, a cockatiel named Buddy.
A Seattle detective named George is after all of them, because he is intent on bringing Ellie and Slip to justice, not much caring what happens to the kid and the bird.
That's all I'm going to say about plot, because the story line, while strong, is not what makes this book 'cook.' What lifts it above mere mystery is Straley's magnificent style, his keen insight into what makes characters tick, or not, and his knack for grabbing us where we live emotionally and never letting go.
In the end, what matters is not who is or who is not guilty of murders galore, but who is or is not truly human. That's always been true in Straley, and this time around it's truer than ever.
I stand in awe.
The book is particularly commendable and good because its two strongest characters are women (actually a woman and girl - but a girl with all the wisdom of an adult). That is quite a feat when one thinks of the really harsh challenges of Alaska and of the many Alaska books and histories dominated by men. Congratulations to Straley.
But I want to ask Straley a simple little question. Is "Cold Storage" modeled after "Elfin Cove?" I'll bet a good freshly caught Halibut steak dinner it is (with a dessert of rhubarb pie).
This is a great book. Read it (and "Cold Storage").
Basic plot revolves around two fugitives on the run from Seattle bound for Alaska. Slippery Wilson didn't know Ellie Hobbs until a couple of days before fleeing to Alaska. When he quite his job in a logging camp and came across her broken down car he had no idea she had a dead body in the boot (trunk). He also didn't know she'd bring a heap of corrupt union trouble on him, or that she had a young girl named Annabelle with a yellow Australian pet bird in her care. Throw in miners strikes, killer whales, porpoises, a brothel, a Seattle cop with his own household problems and a lot of other interesting developments, and you end with a great read. This was my first John Straley novel, it won't be my last!