In this novel, Brian Payton explores a lesser known portion of World War II history – the Japanese invasion of Alaska. At least, this was unknown to me and I consider myself decently informed.
Our main character is John Easely, a journalist who has snuck his way into the Aleutian Islands where the native peoples have been either captured by the Japanese or forcibly evacuated by the Americans. The region is closed to media and the story is unknown in the rest of the world. The novel opens with Easely surviving a plane crash but not knowing if he’ll survive in the hostile environment. Hostile both because of the Japanese soldiers and the physical environment.
The story alternates chapters with our second main character, Helen Easely, John’s wife. The pair parted on poor terms but love each other dearly. After weeks go by without word from John, and little information is provided about what’s really happening in Alaska, Helen decides to take matters into her own hands and follow John to Alaska through any means available.
By focusing on a part of modern history unfamiliar to most readers, Payton automatically creates interest. Which helped me get through the early chapters of the book where I didn’t feel that attached to what was going on. There’s a lot of drama in Easely’s situation but Helen’s chapters mostly seem to focus on her job and her elderly father’s illness, neither of which are particularly compelling. As Helen moves towards finding out where John is, her story becomes more interesting and I found myself enjoying it more. This was a part of history that was more familiar but still something I hadn’t read about in fiction. While John’s survival is compelling, it does get repetitive and for much of the book he seems to do the same things over and over again, with varying degrees of success.
There is a kind of side story (where the title of the novel comes from) that has potential but is underdeveloped and ends up feeling unattached and strange compared to the rest of the story. Unfortunately, the ending hinges around this secondary story and characters and so I found it quite unsatisfying. There’s also a lot alluded to or mentioned in passing about the peoples of the Aleutian Island and I would have loved to learn more but Payton doesn’t delve further into it.
Overall, the novel ended up feeling like it could have used another draft or a bit more polishing. There’s a strong potential here but it’s not quite fulfilled.