Book Review: Thirst by Katherine Prairie

thirstThirst
An Alex Graham Novel #1
Katherine Prairie
Stonedrift Press, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-9949377-0-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Explosive violence rocks Canada’s Slocan Valley after the shooting deaths of three teenagers in a bombing attempt at the Keenleyside dam. A joint U.S.-Canada military force locks down the Valley to protect Columbia River dams critical to both countries but martial law incites more violence.

Geologist Alex Graham refuses to let politics stand in her way. She evades military patrols to slip into a restricted zone in her hunt for a silver mine to claim as her own. But her plans are derailed by an intentionally set fire that almost takes her life.

Someone wants her out of the Slocan Valley.

When Alex discovers a gunshot victim in an abandoned mine, she fears she could be next. But she s never been one to wait for trouble to come to her and she tracks a suspicious man seen once too often in the lonely mountains.

All eyes are on the dams, but the true threat lies elsewhere.

Every now and then, very rarely, a story grabs me by the throat from the first page and doesn’t let go until the end. Such a story is Thirst by Katherine Prairie and I’m here to tell you, if you’re looking for a thriller with heart and a darned good mystery, this one needs to go on your Christmas wishlist right now.

I won’t waste a lot of time delving into the plot—you can get that from the jacket copy and other reviews—but I’ll just say Ms. Prairie knows how to do plot as well as all the trappings that should go with it but often don’t. First, there’s the opening setting in which we learn that this is a place subject to fearful weather, something that always sends shivers down my spine whether it’s warm or cold. Then there are the remote locations so common to Alex’s work as a geologist and the ferocious pressure that comes with hunting down gold and silver deposits. In this particular instance, political machinations, Canadian-US relations, an overbearing US military, a driving need for revenge, an attack on a critical resource and a potential for bioterrorism all mesh together to produce murder and intrigue that initially seems over the top but is, in fact, all too possible.

Alex herself is a bit of an enigma and, yet, we know enough to realize right off the bat that here is a woman who is nearly fearless though guarded, making her way in what’s usually considered a man’s field. She tries to live by certain self-imposed rules such as keeping a low profile but, when she can’t, she goes after the answers needed. As an investigator, Alex is intelligent and open to possibilities while protective of the endangered people and environment. In short, she’s the kind of investigator who isn’t shackled by professional restrictions and, as such, she can and does go the extra mile.

Thirst is Katherine Prairie‘s first novel and I hope to see much more of Alex Graham in the future. This author and her protagonist are too good not to be around for a long time and, in the meantime, this first adventure is going on my list of favorite books read in 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

katherine-prairieKatherine, a geologist and IT specialist, stepped away from the international petroleum industry to follow her passion for writing. An avid traveller with an insatiable curiosity, you never know where you’ll find her next! But most days, she’s in Vancouver, Canada, quietly plotting murder and mayhem under the watchful eye of a cat. She is an award-winning presenter and the author of the thriller THIRST.

www.katherineprairie.com

www.facebook.com/katherine.prairie

www.twitter.com/authorprairie

Buy links for Thirst:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Sense of Place

I passed by a downtown corner the other day, a location I hadn’t visited in a few months, only to find that nothing looked familiar. The coffee shop, the clothing store, the restaurant I knew so well – all were gone, replaced by a plywood and chain link fence protected construction zone.

It reminded me of the challenge of writing about real places, something I’ve chosen to do in my mysteries. I want my reader to believe that the story I’m telling could happen tomorrow, and a certain amount of realism is necessary to accomplish that.

Although I visit most of the places I write about, it’s not enough. A fire can destroy a landmark building, or as happened to my corner, urban renewal can change the landscape. So how to work with real locations in fiction, especially when even careful research may not be enough?

I admit to a certain vagueness in my descriptions of stores, and restaurants. Although I can generally count on a street name, civic building or hospital to remain relatively unchanged over time, businesses come and go, even without construction! But sometimes it’s necessary to take a risk, especially if a location plays a key role in a mystery.

Thirst wouldn’t have been the same story in any other location than the Slocan Valley in southeastern British Columbia near the U.S. border with Washington, and the city of Nelson is at its centre. Nelson is a unique, special place that has its quirky side, and it was as much a character in Thirst as Alex Graham and Eric Keenan! And so, I chose to name both a well-known coffee shop and restaurant, because the coffee shop especially, is an intrinsic part of Nelson and it conveys the true essence of the city.

Many authors set their stories in fictional cities or locations that are just similar enough to real locations that they work as successful substitutes. An unnamed bedroom community outside of San Francisco that resembles Sausalito or Oakland in everything but name, or a Texan town near sprawling cattle ranches, that could be Austin, Laredo or a dozen others. These types of settings allow a reader to conclude that this place must be the city or town they know so well, but because it is never identified as such, they forgive the author’s use of non-existent names.

There’s also a sense of place that can be suggested by general locations, like Stephen King’s use of fictitious small towns in Maine. There’s an attitude and way of life in Maine that he builds on that doesn’t require the use of a specific town.

Other authors take the plunge and generously sprinkle real places into their story. It’s a gamble because you can all-too quickly date your story, and not every business will thank you for naming them. It’s important to remember that a grisly murder in a café, or a poisoning death in a romantic restaurant, can bring irreparable damage to those businesses.

If I use a real business, I always try to put it in the most positive light possible. In addition, I take the time to ask permission from the business owner, including the story synopsis and the specific excerpt in which the business is named, with my request. Generally, I’ve found them to be very supportive and down-right excited by the prospect of inclusion in a locally-set thriller, however it doesn’t always turn out that way. A winery surprised me by declining permission for a single mention of their excellent chardonnay as a romantic dinner choice, but I understood their reasoning. They had worked hard to create a brand and they wanted to protect it, and that meant that they took extreme care as to where and how their wines were mentioned. This particular winery told me that they had even turned down several movie producers too, so I was in good company!

The nature of my mysteries requires real locations, but a small detail like a local winery isn’t going to make or break the story. I’ve come to weigh each choice carefully, to risk naming real businesses, street corners, parks and other elements, only if they’re truly important to the character of the location. Otherwise I retreat to vagueness and leave the rest to my reader’s imagination.

Katherine Prairie

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Thirst by Katherine Prairie

  1. I’m always happy to read a story that takes place in a real location, especially if I know it myself. Of course, a city like Toronto can easily accommodate an extra street or two and some imaginary businesses. For smaller towns, sometimes it’s best to disguise it just enough that you can get away with it. Or amalgamate a few, and mention the actual locations by name, as being a short drive from your town.

    I’m looking forward to reading your book. Coincidentally, I just finished reading another book taking place in and near Nelson, but in 1946. Iona Whishaw’s “A Killer in King’s Cove.”

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    • I like the idea of actual locations being a short drive away. I can see how that would give the idea of a real place without running into too much trouble! I’ll have to pick up Wishaw’s book – I’m curious about what Nelson in the 40’s was like.

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  2. This book sounds wonderfully compelling, Lelia, and Katherine Prairie’s ensuing discussion setting/place is very humble and beautifully expressed.

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  3. Very interesting review and the book sounds good. Real locations add to a story for me only if the writer touches on them enough to feel their “reality” and “distinctness.” If you place your setting in Chicago, but the characters are going down freeways like any other city and stopping at McDonald’s for a hamburger, then it really doesn’t matter what city or imaginary city you use. I’ve never been to New York City, but when Lawrence Block sets his books there (which I think most are), I feel like I’ve lived there, breathed the unique air, got the ambiance of the place. I doubt I’ll ever go to NYC, but Block (and other writers I’ve read) make me think, if I ever do, I will feel like I’m just returning to a place I’ve been many times before.

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  4. Pingback: My Favorite Books Read in 2016 | Buried Under Books

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