John Straley's depiction of an Alaska few tourists ever see is a triumph of skillful writing and deep-felt understanding. This is an Alaska where the strong survive side by side with the twisted and the lost. It is a land of harsh realities where nature's whims are accepted without complaint, a rough and tough land where life is fragile but ever so tenacious. Above all, it is a place where man's quest for independence is tempered by his need for human company. All this and more is conveyed in Cold Water Burning, a tale that explores the wild beauty of coastal Alaska and the lifestyle of its people in a way that both chills and captivates the reader.
Cecil Younger is a haunted man. A private investigator in the town of Sitka, Alaska, his greatest success as a defense investigator has left him suffering from recurrent nightmares of murder, fire and screaming children. Three years after the arson death of two adults and two children aboard the fishing scow Mygirl, Cecil is still convinced that Richard Ewers had nothing to do with the crime. But just as a deadly storm heads straight for Sitka, the man who was found innocent at a highly publicized trial goes missing along with
fifty thousand dollars in tabloid payoffs. Ewers' wife Patricia fears for her husband's life, and seeks Cecil's help in locating him.
Cecil understands why Patricia is worried. Richard Ewers was not the town's most valued resident. Most of the people in Sitka believe that Richard beat the rap due to the clever defense tactics of his lawyer, Harrison Teller. Others think that ex-police detective George Doggy didn't work hard enough to coax a confession from Ewers. The three people with the most reason to hate Ewers are Jonathan Chevalier, brother to murdered teenager Albert Chevalier, and Sean and Kevin Sands, sons of the two adult victims.
Cecil agrees to look into Ewers' disappearance, but when he doesn't act fast enough for Patricia's liking, the distraught woman takes matters into her own hands. Her attempts to interrogate the Sands brothers ends in tragedy, and Cecil is cast in the role of town villain, responsible for yet another miscarriage of justice. Thankfully, Cecil has a few supporters in Sitka. Jane Marie loves Cecil, and together with their baby daughter Blossom, Cecil's ward Todd, and old friend George Doggy, she attempts to lighten the load he
now bears. Cecil is determined, though, to find Richard Ewers, and that means he must reopen the Mygirl case, digging even deeper for a clue to the arsonist's true identity.
Doggy, the man who could help Cecil the most, refuses to do so. When Doggy goes so far as to hide evidence from Cecil, the P.I. begins to question the ex-policeman's motives. Cecil's interrogation of Kevin Sands proves equally fruitless and only increases the hostility Kevin feels towards the investigator. The tension builds until another tragedy strikes the town. Although Cecil is not to blame for the latest trouble, his family is pegged for revenge. In a stunning conclusion to the tale, Cecil must battle not only a personal enemy but also the deadly forces of nature.
Woven into this well-plotted mystery is the story of one man's search for inner peace and the age-old need for acceptance. Cecil Younger is not alone, but embracing that fact is difficult for a man used to bearing the guilt of the world on his shoulders. As Cecil puts it, "I can't shake the feeling that I could have helped them somehow, and I'm wearing that feeling now, even on the warmest days." Still, love has
a way of freeing even the most guilt-ridden among us. For Cecil, that love comes from Jane Marie and provides a satisfying ending to this highly recommended book.