Greg Starypan’s second novel brings the reader back to the Alsea River, this time to solve the murder of two newcomers who never fit into 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.
In this tale of outsiders versus locals and secrets held in the hearts of those around us, Starypan reveals his love of the Alsea and the people and wildlife that make their home there.
Both of Starypan’s novels, “Crawling Back to Start,” published in 2014, and “Wakes on the Alsea” can be purchased at www.amazon.com.
Starypan claims the Pacific Northwest as home. Although he was born in New Jersey, he has lived in Oregon or Washington for the past 44 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in oceanography from the University of Washington and an master’s in zoology from Rutgers University. Starypan’s professional career has included an array of interesting and wide- ranging jobs, including animal researcher, community college instructor, site manager of a commercial salmon farm, education director at a wildlife park near Mount Rainier, and later, as the education curator at a zoo and aquarium. He also has more 25 years in philanthropy, serving as either a grant writer or director of annual support. He is retired and has lived in his house on the Alsea River for the last 22 years.