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Reading the North: 'Chiseled,' 'Pipeline'

Chiseled

By Danuta Pfeiffer; Luminare Press; $15.95

The blurb: In this gripping memoir, Danuta (Soderman) Pfeiffer, known to millions as the former co-host of "The 700 Club with Pat Robertson," explains her sudden disappearance from the evangelical world and explores her chaotic past living under her father's imposing shadow. Danuta Pfeiffer was an unwed teenage mother escaping to the tundra of Alaska; a journalist who inadvertently became a television evangelist with a ringside seat to a presidential campaign; a wife caught in a web of deceit and substance abuse. Through it all, she clings to her father's legacy, sustained by his tales of fortitude and endurance when faced with the horrors of war. Finally, living happily as a winemaker in Oregon, she finds she must once more reinvent herself, when during a sojourn to the Carpathian Mountains of Poland she uncovers long-buried family secrets. "Chiseled" is the story of one woman brave enough to chip away at a life of lies and finally arrive at a shining core of truth.

Excerpt: Unforgiving. Untamed. Unconditional. The Last Frontier. The westernmost, easternmost, northernmost state. Alaska, more than twice the size of Texas, a birthmark sprawled on the top of the globe, a place where everybody had a story. Some go there for adventure, others seek haven from a past. For my mother and me, Alaska was a gamble, 4,000 miles from Michigan and my lost home. Alaska loomed over us, a vast expanse of shameless proportions. For anyone in 1965, Alaska was a godawful challenge, a camouflage of beauty hiding an icy interior where the weak perished and the strong merely survived.

The odyssey was upon us: my mother, a month-old baby, my 4-year-old brother, my orange tabby cat, and me, barely 17, traveling perilous roads to Alaska during an arctic winter, and crossing the Rocky Mountains at unforgiving altitudes. We tucked into a borrowed Ford sedan with no snow tires and aimed for redemption.

The first day of our exodus took us through the coldest reaches of the United States: the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, through Minnesota to Duluth, south to Minneapolis, Saint Paul, to Fargo, North Dakota, and on to Winnipeg, Canada. Snow battered the windshield. Winds buffeted the car and rocked us like a cradle, and baby Paul slept through it all. We left behind a different kind of storm: the shouting, the threats, the chaos.

"We're dose to the Canadian border. And it's already freezing cold." Mom sounded worried about the weather, but as mile after mile of frigid landscape rolled by, my mind traveled back to our troubled departure from what had been our home. I thought of my brother's face as he stood in the living room that day, an hour before leaving. Rick announced, "I'm not going." He had poked his nervous fingers through a button hole in his plaid jacket.

"What?" Mom and I blurted together, startling baby Paul who whimpered on a blanket beside us. My youngest brother, Michael, sat on a suitcase playing with a toy soldier.

"I want to stay with Dad until you get back." Rick was 14, a quiet boy who seldom took a stand on anything and ducked like a prizefighter whenever trouble brewed. And in our family trouble brewed more often than coffee.

Nowhere Else to Go but Dyea

By Nita Nettleton; Lynn Canal Publishing; $14.95

The blurb: Henry Stillwater was a bigshot in the world of finance until he went to prison. Now he is out and has been given a ticket north to a new life on the edge of the wilderness in the tiny old gold rush settlement of Dyea (pronounced Di-eee) near Skagway. It doesn't take long for the residents to figure out who their new neighbor is, and what to make of him. Henry falls right in with a new gang of cronies and their peculiar loves and misdeeds, but it's not what you think, and he will have to figure out whether this strange place will be his new home.

Excerpt: Henry's anxiety backed off a few notches when the hulking, dark trees gave way to a wide, twi-lit yard. He could see a ghosty, sagging teepee to one side, a woodshed to the other and a lumpy but solid looking cabin in the middle. Another structure was partially blocked by the cabin, maybe a greenhouse. Clumps of not-quite-melted snow rimmed what he presumed to be the south side of the clearing. Darwin stopped the truck in front of a set of steps onto a wide porch that ran the width of the cabin.

"I'll help you get settled then take this wood over to Ms. Walton." Darwin pitched his head to the left. "That's her light you can see through the trees. She's your closest neighbor, you lucky bastard." He chuckled and hopped out.

Henry slid out of the truck and stood for a moment looking at his new home. It clearly was not all built at the same time. The original was most likely the log part, about 12 by 16 feet, then a section about the same size was added, board and batten sided, to the east. The porch looked newer yet and ran the length of the south side. The windows were unbroken and the smoke stack stood straight. Much better overall than expected, Henry thought.

He had heard a description years ago during a lucky poker game at a Rotary convention, then saw the plat when he got title after the poker loser's funeral. The plat only showed the original cabin and a small outbuilding. Henry redrew the plat in his head and was sure the outbuilding was in the same spot as the woodshed. He gathered his grocery sacks out of the truck and followed Darwin, who carried the suitcase and fujel can up the steps, down the porch and through the unlocked door. Darwin used a Bic from his pocket to light a candle on a cupboard inside the door.

Pipeline

By Ron Dalby; Moonshine Cove Publishing; $16.99

The blurb: An overworked detective, a dedicated game warden and a veteran bush pilot team up in this saga. A child is snatched from the Anchorage bus station. Clues developed during the search suggest she's being held by a pedophile and his ex-con buddy, and that they are hatching a plot to blow up the trans-Alaska pipeline. Then detective Gomez learns that the pedophile murdered his last victim. The race is on to save the child before the abductor tires of her -- and to prevent a monumental environmental disaster in the heart of Alaska's sweeping wilderness.

Excerpt: Sixth Avenue Police Station, Anchorage, Alaska, 8:05 a.m.

Ending his shift, Officer Whitney couldn't quite get what Tennant had told him out of his mind. Who, indeed, talks about dynamite, oil spills and pipelines in Chilkoot Charlies on a Friday night? Everybody knows `Koots is the best pick-up bar in Anchorage, and the place is pretty raucous for anything resembling a serious conversation.

What the hell ... can't hurt to run it past the detectives. He crossed the hall and entered the duty detective's office. A friend, Detective Sergeant Rick — short for Ricardo — Gomez, was sifting through the pile of officers' reports that had come in overnight.

"Hi, Rick. Had a strange one last night that I thought I'd bounce off of you before heading home.

"Busted this guy for DUI, and he mentioned two guys at a table in `Koots talking about things like dynamite and pipelines and oil spills. I couldn't make much sense of it and wondered if you had something that might match up."

"First I've heard about anything like that. But a conversation like that in 'Koots does sound odd. Any names or descriptions?"

"I didn't press for that stuff; he was pretty drunk. He's in the drunk tank right now waiting for the judge. He's probably a little hung over but reasonably sober by now."

"According to these reports, it was a slow night so my talents aren't immediately in demand. Maybe I'll put this guy in a room and sweat him some."

"Good luck. His name's Tennant. See you tomorrow."

Gomez picked up his phone, punched a button and told whoever was on the other end that he wanted Tennant in an interrogation room in 30 minutes. At the moment, coffee was more important than some hung-over DUI miscreant. After downing two cups of coffee, Gomez tucked the DUI case file under his arm and walked to the interrogation room.

Tennant looked much the worse for wear. Gone was the suave Casanova from six hours earlier who was headed home with the prettiest girl in the bar. In its place was a man with a sinus headache, an upset stomach, a mouth that tasted like the bottom of a bird cage, an overpowering thirst, and desperately in need of sleep.

"Are you Charles Tennant?" Gomez asked, switching on the tape recorder.

"Yeah. What'd I do now?"

"Nothing that I know of." Gomez then recited his name, badge number and the date and time into the tape recorder along with Tennant's name and driver's license number.

"I don't have anything to do with your DUI, but right now I just want to know more of what you heard at 'Koots."

Tennant thought a minute. "Don't know much 'cept what I told the cop last night."

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