It’s Minnesota fiction Sunday, with a fatal cougar attack (or is it?), the story of a couple who live and love each other in the 70s and 80s, and a novel set in Ukraine and which is written for young adults but which everyone should read, given the war that is going on in this devastated country.
“Cougar Claw” by Cary J. Griffith (Adventure Publications, $16.99)
Much of what Sam had found at the kill site was unsettling, but as he considered the possibilities, was it realistic to think that someone had somehow used a cougar to get Jack killed? … There was a prominent citizen who had been viciously killed in a chilling and bizarre way. And there were a lot of them that didn’t make sense.
It’s reassuring to know that if you walk around the bottoms of the Minnesota River Valley near Savage, you’re unlikely to be attacked by a cougar. Unless someone wants you dead.
In his second adventure starring U.S. Fish & Wildlife Special Agent Sam Rivers, natural history writer Griffith takes us to the wilderness around Savage, where a prominent businessman is found dead, apparently victim of a cougar.
Local sheriff Rusty Benson is up for re-election and wants the case closed quickly. Law enforcement officials don’t know much about cougars, whose range is north of the Twin Cities, but there’s enough evidence to credibly assume there’s a wild animal out there. dangerous in the area.
When Rivers is called to verify the kill, he becomes suspicious. There are too many clues inconsistent with cougar behavior. Cougars are almost never seen near metropolitan areas. The animal’s footprints are strange. and cougars always feed immediately after a kill. But the victim’s body was not mutilated. And why didn’t the cougar stay nearby to guard its feast?
After a heated argument with the sheriff, Rivers joins a group of hunters to take down the animal, accompanied by Gray, his large wolf/malamute mix in training to become a search and rescue dog. With them is Diane, a reporter whom Sam met during an iron chain case in Rivers’ first novel, “Wolf Kill”.
As the sheriff’s patience with Rivers’ questions wears thin, he assigns a deputy to follow the officer to make sure Rivers doesn’t snoop where he doesn’t belong. But he does it anyway, questioning the deceased’s widow, who will inherit a lot of money because her husband’s business is being sold. Then there are the company executives who can make money from the sale. And who, the reader wonders, are the people calling each other by false names as they plot behind Rivers’ back?
It’s not a spoiler to reveal that ultimately this case isn’t fully resolved and Rivers will surely meet the killer again.
Rives is an interesting character, a calm guy who sometimes seems distant as he concentrates on the case. His knowledge of nature and predators offers information that city dwellers may not know. For example, cougars are also known as mountain, puma, panther, and catamount lions. The animal has four long canines embedded in the lower and upper jaws which can open at an angle of almost 120 degrees.
Sam Rivers is a welcome addition to Minnesota writers’ growing list of detective fiction protagonists. His love of nature and creatures, even predators, permeates the plot.
Griffith, who lives in Rosemount, has a master’s degree in library science from the University of Minnesota. Besides the Rivers series, he writes non-fiction, including Minnesota Book Award winner “Opening Goliath,” about discovery, exploration, and politics surrounding a cave complex in southeastern Minnesota.
If parts of this book sound familiar, that’s because the Minneapolis Star Tribune published the original version, titled “Savage Minnesota,” in a summer series. But there were no printed copies of the book and five years later Sam Rivers’ first novel, “Wolves”, was published. After a rewrite with suggestions from mystery writer Mary Logue, this retitled version of the story is now in print.
About the main character, the author says: “I have always loved Sam Rivers, and although he had a difficult childhood and had flaws, his love of remote places and the comfort he found in the wilderness are passions that many of us share.
Griffith will be signing copies of her novel from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Friday, June 24 at Lake Country Booksellers, 4766 Washington Square, White Bear Lake.
“Other people manage” by Ellen Hawley (UK-based Swift Press; Kindle edition available in the US for $16.88)
As surely the children grew up, so did we, even if we didn’t notice it in the same way. Time passed while we drank coffee, or tossed our dirty clothes in the washing machine, or took the kids through the zoo, and it was only now and then that we noticed a change. I switched to decaf after supper, then Peg did. We hadn’t been to the bars or danced in ages, and when the Coffehouse closed, we didn’t even hear about it for months.
Ellen Hawley has lived in Cornwall, England for 15 years, and this novel is her first publication in the UK.
But Minnesotans who were part of the local literary community before she left will remember her. She edited The View From the Loft for the Minneapolis Literary Center where she taught. She won Loft-McKnight and Minnesota State Arts Board grants and worked for the underground newspaper North Country Press.
Hawley was living here when two of her novels were published by small local presses.
His experiences as a taxi driver inspired his 1998 debut, “Trip Sheets” (Milkweed Editions), named after the records taxi drivers kept to show where they drove each day and how much money they made. His second Minnesota book, “Open Line” (Coffee House Press), is a political satire about a bored radio talk show host who suggests to a caller that the Vietnam War was a hoax. She unleashes public paranoia, but loves the attention. (Does this seem appropriate?)
Which brings us to “Other People Manage,” a quiet romance about the love between tall Marge, a bus driver, and Peg, in training to become a psychotherapist. They meet at a Minneapolis coffeehouse in the 1970s and remain together until Peg’s death 20 years later. Marge is the sometimes sardonic, sometimes bewildered, but always loving narrator of this story with family at her heart.
During their lifetime, the women often act as parents to the two children of Deena, Peg’s sister, who leaves the children with her sister Jude for months at a time. As the children grow into a family, Marge and Peg face the same daily challenges as everyone else.
Hawley’s writing is spared but Meg and Peg are fully realized characters. Even Deena, who abandons her children from time to time, is quite sympathetic. Marge and Peg manage, like other people.
“The Hidden Room” by William Durbin and Barbara Durbin (Lake Vermillion Press, $11.99)
“‘To run!’ I shout, stunned that we’ve been caught in the middle of a battle of German and Russian tanks.We rush across the bridge, veering into the woods just as a tank behind us fires back.
This compelling story of a Jewish family who lived in a cave in Ukraine during the final year of World War II is written for intermediate readers, but should be read by anyone watching the horrors unfold. in this country now.
Written by husband/wife team Durbin, it is based on the true story of Esther Stermer and her family, who took refuge in a cave, like many others, when the Nazis invaded their village in Ukraine. .
Less talented writers might have made this story almost too hard to read, because it evokes the holodomor, when Josef Stalin starved millions of Ukrainians (and others) in the early 1930s. Of course, the Nazis are no better than the Soviets, who shoot Jews in their graves. And some Ukrainians were eager to reveal the hiding places of Jewish neighbors.
Still, the book’s fictional family finds ways to laugh as they try to get used to the darkness of their cave. 14-year-old Jacob tries to care for his 4-year-old brother, Eli, and 9-year-old sister, Rachel, when he’s not chopping wood with his dad under cover of darkness. They are supplied thanks to Stepan, the son of their kind neighbor who risks his life to help them.
Much of the book is about how people stay alive and sane by living in the dark (they have lamps) always worrying about when the food will run out. When they take in Elena, a girl from Ukraine, the food supply gets tight, but they consider her a girl even though she is a Christian. Elena and Jacob are the only ones able to sneak under the cover of darkness to look for nuts and other foods that the mother can use to make stew. But as winter drags on, there is nothing to search in the surrounding forest and the family is close to starvation.
Along with interesting historical insights into Ukraine, this fast-paced novel is also thrilling as Jacob and Elena evade enemy tanks, with the humor provided by Eli’s obsession with jelly doughnuts. And there’s bravery, including the mother’s insistence that everything is going to be okay and how she somehow finds ways to celebrate Jewish holidays and children’s birthdays, even if it isn’t. there’s not much to eat.
Bill Durbin, winner of two Minnesota Book Awards, has written 14 novels. He and his wife, a teacher, lived on Vermillion Lake bordering the Boundary Waters canoe zone and now reside in Duluth.