I like it warm. Anything north of Watford Gap is, to me, the frozen north. So why did I pick up a novel which quite clearly says it is about the genuinely frozen north: the Yukon? It was, indeed, a warm review of the book by Pete Barber for Big Al and Pals.
Apparently Ken Baird operated a Yukon gold mine for ten years, was a receiver-manager and a private pilot. He now lives in Florida. I guess he’s decided he prefers it warm too. Yukon Audit was Baird’s first book. It won the 2016 Indie Book Award for Best Thriller. I can quite see why. There is a sequel, Yukon Revenge.
So, what is good about this novel? It is set in one of the last, great wildernesses of the world; winter lasts eight months of the year; and during June and July it never really gets dark (white nights). Baird makes living in the Yukon fascinating. The way people get around, the way the climate and the wilderness dictates how everyday life must be lived, the sheer emptiness of the country, the tiny populations who nevertheless have a rich and vibrant life. The vast amounts of wild salmon eaten!
The Yukon has its own special criminals as well. A LOT of gold is still mined in the Yukon. Substantial quantities are washed out of the banks of the Yukon River every year. Trading in gold is as commonplace as, say, cutting a crop and taking it to a farmers’ market might be in rural Britain. Most things are seasonal in the Yukon – anyone who has watched Ice Road Truckers on the TV will know that travel is a scary concept in winter.
So the setting and the setup are both fascinating. On top of that there is plenty of plot. The protagonist, Brody, is a pilot and car mechanic, who winters in Phoenix, Arizona but prefers to spend his summers in the Canadian Yukon. He gets claustrophobic in offices and knows the value of the solitude which he loves.
However, the Yukon can be a dangerous place. Even without people with unpleasant agendas trying to kill you. The pages turn briskly.
I must, however, point out that this is a book of some 510 pages (so they need to turn briskly). The reason for this length is that Brody turns out to be a real know it all. He tells the reader, in detail, about his pre-flight checks and the mechanics of flying his sixty year old De Havilland Beaver plane. The first time it’s interesting. The second and third time not so much. In fact, he goes into detail about absolutely everything. Some parts of the story can stand this: others cannot.
A side effect of all this detail is that one cannot tell what information is setting up something which will be important later, and what is just Brody telling the reader about how he feeds his dogs. So there are frustrations.
The book only exists on Kindle. And Baird is his own master as regards its publication. So I’m surprised that he hasn’t thought to give it a trim. I see the sequel is even slightly longer! The thriller genre really doesn’t lend itself to big tomes. Tension flags, suspense is lost.
That Baird can keep the pace going is a testament to the quality of his writing and plot. But inside this flabby 510pp bear of a book there is a slim, fit book trying to get out.