TRAFFIC NORTH: Crime on the Alaska/Russia Border
By Richie Goldstein
TRAFFIC NORTH; Crime on the Alaska/Russia Border by Alaskan Richie Goldstein is an unusual book. But then again, with the changes in the publishing industry, its unusualness is to be expected. By way of explanation, in the old days when the big publishers controlled what went into bookstores, there were specific rules for what could and could not be in books. Just like an episode of LAW AND ORDER or NCIS, the unpleasantries were not. If a cop had a drinking problem, it was spoken of in the past tense and never shown on the small screen. And ‘dirty cops’ got what was coming to them in the end.
Traffic North is the tip of a new wave of books which exposes real life in the tawdry world of law and order. Right up front, for instance, one of the cops is on duty and stays on duty in spite of the fact she could not pass a sobriety test -- and her condition is clear to observers. The crimes are brutal and a lot closer to reality than any TV programs would dare to go. In the first part of the novel, a dirty spotter on crab boat is beaten by Russian thugs and goes down to the bottom of the sea in a pot. A woman is killed and her body is just dumped in the forest – where there are agonizing details about the condition of the body when it is found being devoured by ravens.
Perhaps the greatest weakness in the novel is a hidden strength. This is not a book of literature so there are very few descriptive lines, paragraphs or allusions. It is almost all conversation. This can make it hard to follow the plot lines – there are several – and the reader has to juggle his/her attention to keep the scenarios straight. On the other hand, it is a dynamic Alaskan thriller written by an Alaskan with plenty of local geographic and ethnographic references. The Russian names and criminal angle add to the story. The book is lengthy and it will take a while to get through it, but the read is worth the trip.