Title: Alaska Hunt
Author: Shelter Somerset
Narrator: John Solo
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Run Time: 9 hours 21 minutes
At a Glance: There’s not much mystery, and I felt way more frustration than suspense.
Reviewed By: Cassie
Blurb: For Alaska Wildlife Trooper Zanebono Fusca, it’s just another summer in Anchorage until a slew of inexplicable fatal bear attacks sets the city reeling. As far as Zane is concerned, the timing couldn’t be worse. He’s besieged with his own demons, coping with personal loss and an identity crisis that clutches him worse than a grizzly’s pickaxe-sized fangs. Ten years before, he hoped Alaska would bring him a sense of his manhood. Now the “last frontier” could put him in an early grave.
Zane’s role to protect Alaska’s teeming wildlife gets even more tangled when handsome 25-year-old Joshua Gaffner arrives seeking the details of his uncle’s gruesome death. But Alaskan officials have few answers. Against his better judgment, Zane takes Joshua deep into Anchorage’s far-flung back country – populated with eccentric recluses and ego-driven ecologists – in search of the truth. As the bizarre attacks increase, Zane and Josh continue to push for clues to crack the mystery. Finally Zane unravels a shocking discovery that makes the pieces fall into place. The trouble is Josh stands in the perfect position to become the next victim.
Review: Let’s start with the narration. John Solo does a good job here. He’s more reader than actor, but he does a good job of distinguishing characters, emoting in the dialogue, and expressing the general feel of a scene through the non-dialogue narration. He’s easy to listen to, and I would absolutely listen to more books narrated by him.
Which leaves the story. I really like settings that essentially operate as an extra character in the story. Alaska is almost like that in this book. I don’t know a lot about the state, so I can’t speak to accuracy at all, but I did like reading (hearing?) about the wilderness, long daylight hours, and general descriptions of the people and locations. I wish there had been a bit more of it.
Characterization-wise this book was a miss for me. Zanebono’s primary character trait is apathy. I’m not sure that’s how the author would describe it, but that’s what came across in the book. He’s mired by misplaced past guilt; he fell into the job he has after a divorce, and gave up access to his son to his in-laws, making no push to restore it despite his expressed desire to be with his son. In general, he spends all his time brooding in his head. Since we get events mostly from his POV, we have a front row seat. It gets tiresome. I also could not understand his obsession with living off the land in the bush of Alaska. Is it proof of masculinity? Disdain for modernity? Ecological consciousness? I couldn’t figure it out, and his burning desire isn’t sympathetic because it’s never adequately expressed. He just broods about it. I think maybe there are some messages about masculinity and nature/natural stewardship in his character, but I honestly couldn’t figure out what they were or if I agreed with them.
Joshua was just as confusing for me. I couldn’t get a grasp on why Joshua stayed beyond the author needing him for the romance plot. Clearing his uncle’s name of bear-feeding and finding out the truth of the attack seemed to feature heavily in his decision, but it was a bear attack, not a knifing. The bear’s dead, so it’s not a matter of getting revenge by tracking down or killing the bear that killed his uncle. He throws around some accusations of investigators protecting/coddling bears or making excuses for bears or what not, but IT’S A BEAR. And more to the point it’s a DEAD bear, so not a lot left to protect there. I understand grief at a family member’s death and a desire for closure, but Joshua’s vendetta to “clear his uncle’s name” was kind of weak, and Joshua seemed unreasonably obsessed with it. Wanting to find out what really happened is kind of understandable if you’re actually looking for a play-by-play of events, but why so angry? Joshua’s anger at law enforcement and immediate accusations of some type of cover up were weird, unfounded, and farfetched. Not to mention way too premature to sustain any type of suspense in the plot.
The mystery in this book was not very mysterious at all, with the bad guy clear from the first death. That made the characters all seem like idiots, which was extremely frustrating. You have four separate bear attacks, obvious similarities between victims, bears, and circumstances between all the attacks. And yet, the characters spend most of the book wringing their hands and thinking how WEIRD it all is and repeatedly telling each other that bears can’t plan attacks, or plot revenge, or coordinate with each other; only evil, evil PEOPLE can do that, so these attacks can’t possibly be connected, because BEARS. The clues were obvious and heavy-handed, and I ended up feeling like the characters were either being willfully obtuse or unforgivably stupid. There was a last minute attempt to save it by Zanebono thinking at the climax that weeks’ worth of his suspicions had finally been confirmed, but he never shared any of those suspicions with the reader up to that point, so it felt extremely forced and annoying.
The believability of the story also fell apart a bit at the big finale. There’s just a bunch of Zanebono jumping to unfounded conclusions about the bad guy’s location, motivation, and next actions. Plus, Zanebono makes a headlong rush through a storm to Joshua’s side to warn him of his imminent and mortal peril, only to arrive and make the truly ludicrous decision to leisurely sit down in the tiny, isolated cabin and have a cup of coffee BEFORE telling the whole long story—while Joshua cooks dinner. I was literally screaming in frustration at this point. Why Zanebono didn’t run in, grab the guy, and toss him into the truck before peeling hell for leather back down the mountain and explaining on the way, I cannot begin to explain. Except that the author needed the storm to wash out the escape route and strand them at the cabin, and coffee gave it time to happen.
Beyond the plot issues, there were a few other issues I had with the writing, like misused words and weird descriptions. Things repeatedly got “ogled” that should not have been ogled, a word which has a leering, sexual connotation. At one point, one of the researchers even “ogles” a bear. Particularly awkward considering the researcher had just stated that he had loving relationships with his bears, with the disconcerting caveat, “not like between two humans.” I was the only one feeling uncomfortable in that conversation, so I don’t think that’s an interpretation the author intended, but it was weird. There are also several segments from a bear’s POV that just didn’t work. I got the intention, but the animal was way too articulate in an unevenly applied kind of way. For example, the bear used the word for needle, but didn’t know the word helicopter, so called it a bird instead. There was also a random side fact that a secondary character was known to be taking steroids. I would have let it slide as an odd and useless bit of extra info, but the guy flips out on a suspect, and all Zanebono thinks is that it’s very unlike him. Surely, I’m not the only person who’s heard of ‘roid rage? Would that thought not cross your mind?
So this one was a big miss for me. The mystery wasn’t one. I felt more frustration than suspense, and the characters weren’t likeable or sympathetic. I spent the whole time wanting to scream at or shake everyone senseless, including the bears.
You can buy Alaska Hunt here: