All you really need for a good nature thriller is a scary animal attack. True North supplies a satisfactory one, and throws in a scary human one as well, so nothing else is required for the reader here but a comfortable sofa and the off switch on the television remote control.
Don't let the author's formidable name spook you into saving her first novel for your more literary moments. True, this book is thoughtful, and will raise your consciousness about the anomalous position of Native Americans in the state of Alaska. Mainly though, it wants to alert you to the extraordinary ambiance of the place and give you a thrill along the way.
Bailey Lockhart carries baggage from a traumatic New England past when she becomes a bush pilot in the wilds of Alaska. She keeps the past at bay by buying a piece of wilderness land and burying herself in the routine of sheer survival. For six years it works, but suddenly the arrival of a naively arrogant young couple forces her out of her protected isolation and reopens her cache of hurt. What's more, this painful episode comes at a time when the local native population has begun to splinter in its varying reactions to U.
S. government policies, and she is caught between renewed discomfort as a white outsider and her affection for the people, especially Kash, the leader of the more peaceful local political movement.
Eventually she is forced by circumstance and coincidence to come to terms with her wounded and wounding memories though not before death and a clarified love intervene.
Kafka is a certified wilderness emergency medical technician, comfortable in the wilds of both Alaska and Wisconsin, and has taught writing and literature at the University of Michigan and elsewhere. Her early brashly driven prose softens into a lover's appreciation of a familiar country, where the human beings do not always live up to the land. As first novels so often do, this one improves before your eyes, gaining skill and grace with each succeeding page.
Alaska will always steal the show, of course, but read this one for the traditional thriller values of suspense and a good story. Popcorn is optional.
Maude McDaniel is a reviewer in Cumberland, Maryland.