I’m a city girl, but I really enjoy reading stories set in state parks and forests and islands and other areas where there is less population, and the environment is as much of a character as the people. And the wildlife? Oh, yes, I want to meet them too.
I write stories mostly set in urban areas and also like reading city stories. But my current mystery series, the Alaska Untamed Mysteries, was inspired by my most recent Alaskan cruise. I’ve written other mystery series, but this is my first under a pseudonym: Lark O. Jensen—not far from my real name of Linda O. Johnston. And this series involves the remote environment and, even more, the wildlife.
Why was I inspired? Well, when in port in Alaska near Juneau, I took a boat tour where naturalists onboard pointed out some of the wonderful wildlife in the area. And that area itself was fascinating—the water, the mountains surrounding where we sailed, the beautiful blue sky… It was a time of the year in Alaska when the weather was good for such an outing.
And so naturalist Stacie Calder was born in my mind. She didn’t have a name then, but I knew I had to write stories about that area. I even started researching and asking questions of those naturalists onboard to get started.
I saw mama seals with their babies on ice floes on the water, bears and moose and wolves on the nearby mountains. I didn’t meet them in person, but they wound up in my stories. So far there are two stories: Bear Witness and Cry Wolf.
Bear Witness is focused on a tour boat like the one that inspired me, and Stacie presents tours there. Her wonderful husky Sasha is with her. Nearly all my books include dogs, and I always love to read other stories with dogs in them.
And Cry Wolf, the new book in the series, takes place in the Alaskan winter, when tour boats don’t go out into the icy water. Instead, Stacie spends the winter at a nearby wildlife sanctuary, Sasha again by her side.
Other authors also write stories that take place in special far-off locations and often contain wonderful descriptions of those areas, as well as wildlife there—at least sometimes. Quite a few books like that are out there, and I’m always looking for more.
For example, there are the many Anna Pigeon stories of Nevada Barr. In one, Winter Study, Anna is involved with a wolf study team in Isle Royale National Park near Lake Superior. In this story, a moose is killed early on, and there are some fairly graphic descriptions of what happens to his remains, including what other wildlife gets him as food. My preference in stories is the certification of the American Humane Association: No Animals Were Harmed. But in reality, animals do survive by eating each other—and humans who aren’t vegetarians eat animals too. The descriptions are handled well in this story, including how wolves, ravens, foxes and even fish benefit. Plus, when stories are mysteries, people are killed too, and the protagonists have to help figure out whodunnit.
That happens in my stories as well.
And in Winter Study, there are also excellent descriptions of the environment. Nevada Barr is skilled at doing that. In High Country, which takes place in Yosemite National Park, there are descriptions of the area including mountains, cliffs, boulders and ponderosa pines. She indicates the area is mostly wilderness but there are people around, and in the areas where they hang out there is machinery for their benefit.
Another book I enjoy that involves Alaska is Alaskan Catch, by Sue Pethick. It’s not necessarily a mystery, more of a rom-com, but it does contain suspense… and some fun descriptions of Alaska and the environment. In it, Emily Prentice is a marine biologist who leaves her boyfriend behind and goes to Ketchikan for a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) internship—in a fish cannery! Lots of smells and goo, plus a large but loving Newfoundland dog who knocks Emily over and into that goo. Fortunately, despite all that goo it’s not totally graphic. Some of the story involves how the boats go out to catch fish. It also describes seaplanes and boats including a ferry, and there’s more about the Alaskan atmosphere, including cloudy skies, but golden sun sometimes. And there are storms, heavy swells in water, rain causing difficult flights. Plus, there are gray-winged seagulls and great gray owls. It’s another enjoyable story involving the environment and wildlife.
Another story I liked a lot that involves the environment and wildlife, is Cold Wind, by Paige Shelton. If you happen to look at my books, the cover flaps indicate they are perfect for fans of Paige Shelton. Our stories are different, of course, but I appreciate their likening mine to Paige Shelton’s. In Cold Wind, after being kidnapped thriller writer Beth Rivers had fled her home in St. Louis in a prior story, and wound up in the town of Benedict, Alaska, where she has taken over running a small newspaper. She lives in a halfway house for parolees to get their lives together, even though she’s not one. But she does feel somewhat protected there. She meets a lot of people in the area, including a park ranger and a native Tlingit, as well as the woman in charge of the halfway house. The area is definitely Alaskan, with snow-covered grounds, old houses, foothills, even ice caves. Wildlife? Yes, including bears and wolves, and even a few horses running wild on the streets.
Some of my other favorite stories? Check out Chasing Justice by Kathleen Donnelly, the first of her National Park K-9 Series books. Definitely suspenseful. Definitely enjoyable. The protagonist, Maya Thompson, has been in the military but wound up coming home. She now works with the U.S. Forest Service and has her K-9 Jupiter, a Malinois, at her side. They’re often out in the wilds of Colorado seeking bad guys: drug dealers… and murderers. And now and then, in the enchanting atmosphere of the forest and mountains, they see wildlife such as mama and baby deer.
Then there are the wonderful Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries by Margaret Mizushima, where Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are also involved in helping to solve crimes in the wilds of Colorado. Wildlife appears there too, such as the mountain lions in Stalking Ground—dangerous as well as fascinating. And descriptions of the icy, mountainous area around Timber Creek while seeking bad guys, and good ones too, is always inspirational, including in Striking Range.
So… As I said, there are a lot more authors and a lot more books out there taking place in appealing, remote areas. I enjoy the descriptions of the various environments, including forests, mountains and, of course, water areas. And I always enjoy hearing about wildlife, as well as reading about the characters’ dogs.