March 2nd 2010

by Julie Johnson, Alaska Walk Leader I had a nice chat with a friend of mine, Louise Halfpenny, the other day. I asked her 'just what was it that surprised you most about Alaska?' Louise is a Wayfarers’ Old Friend and is in the Founders’ Circle. We met eight years ago on a Wayfarers’ walk in Derbyshire, and since then, I’ve had the privilege of walking with her on a number of Wayfarers walks. I was thrilled when she joined our Alaskan Odyssey last summer because I love showing off the surprises of Alaska to friends. Louise’s first impression of Alaska was a pretty common one – she said the enormity of the landscape blew her away, but then in the same breath she mentioned the warmth of the locals. Guests are introduced to lots of Alaskans during the week, most of them friends who have contributed to the flavor of Alaska that I know and love. Louise also loved Seward, a small town at southern end of the Alaska Railroad and at the mouth of Resurrection Bay, the location of Kenai Fjords National Park. We visit Seward halfway through the walk and because of the attractions there, we have scheduled a free afternoon for guests to explore this tiny, historic town famous for halibut, rain and friendly people. Louise and another guest set off on the drizzly afternoon and stumbled onto a tiny, locally owned book shop. They asked for a book which the owner didn’t have in stock…she apologized, but said 'We have a real Alaskan author here today, though, would you like to meet Sue Henry?' They were excited to meet her – after all, the book she signed for them was 'Murder on the Iditarod Trail,' and we had just spent the morning learning about the Iditarod and playing with puppies at musher Mitch Seavey’s kennel. They had no idea how envious I would be when they told their story at dinner that evening! Sue is one of those 'real' Alaskans, a person who lives and works there, loves the land, its people and her craft. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a blustery afternoon than inside a cozy bookstore, talking heart to heart with her. Sue is warm, direct and funny. Her seamless writing style makes it look easy, but she dedicates many hours to research. In her first book, 'Murder on the Iditarod Trail,' she talked with mushers about everything from raising championship pups to how to treat a dog’s sore foot to racing strategy. She has a keen eye for current events and weaves non-fiction and fiction, making stories that much more believable. 'Murder on the Iditarod Trail' was published in 1991 – it met with critical acclaim and won several awards, including the Macavity Award for Best First Novel (a little obscure to most, but impressive to a mystery lover like me!). Since, Sue has written 16 books, all of which involve Alaska. I took a class from her years ago and the advice that stuck with me is 'Always be fair to your readers. Give them what they need to solve the mystery themselves – never throw them a loop at the end of the story, or you’ll lose your fans….' Because I’m on my way to the start of the Iditarod in a couple of weeks, I decided to re-read 'Murder on the Iditarod Trail.' I forgot how much fun her books can be! She grabs you right away – you care about the characters, you share their frustration when the sled crashes and feel the sparks fly between her beautifully crafted characters State Trooper Alex Jensen and musher Jessie Arnold. Sue doesn’t mess around, either. Although murder has never occurred on the Iditarod trail – in fact no mushers have ever died on the trail – three sudden deaths occur under suspicious circumstances. While she crafts the story, she manages to educate the reader about people, mushing, the history of the Iditarod and life in Alaska without it sounding like a textbook. I absolutely recommend 'Murder on the Iditarod Trail' to anyone interested in the Iditarod, Alaska or a good mystery. It’s a wild ride – but so is the Iditarod, and so is the Alaskan Odyssey! And I am now REALLY excited about my trip to the start of the Iditarod in Anchorage on March 6 – stay tuned for my Facebook and twitter entries! You’ll meet dogs, mushers and if we’re really lucky – maybe I’ll run into Sue Henry scouting ideas for her next novel! To learn more: Order the Book - Murder on the Iditarod by Sue Henry Find out more about the Iditarod Find our more abou the Ididaride More about Seward, Alaska More about Hotel Seward More about The Wayfarers Alaska Adventure Walking Vacation

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