cover image Skookum Summer

Skookum Summer

Jack Hart. Univ. of Washington, $34.95 (309p) ISBN 978-0-295-99347-8

After a scandal led to his departure from a dream job as an investigative journalist at the Los Angeles Times, Tom Dawson has returned home to Big Skookum, a tiny logging town near Puget Sound in Washington State, in this heartfelt and rewarding debut set in 1981. Now on the staff of the Big Skookum Echo, Dawson is “back in the boonies where women’s softball rated as a page-one story.” He longs to return to “real” journalism and gets the chance at a big story when local logger Hal Mayfield is murdered, and both the murderer and the motive remain unknown. Hart paints a vivid picture of the times: the impact of the contemporary recession on small towns like Big Skookum, the challenge to traditional local industries like logging from environmentalists, and the rise of illegal drug production in the boonies. These elements provide plenty of motives for Mayfield’s murder, but they also stir up memories for author Hart, a former newspaperman from the Pacific Northwest. His sense of place and time is evocative and powerful (and may particularly appeal to readers familiar with Puget Sound or interested in the area), but often the book feels more like a heartfelt memoir, with all that genre’s earnestness and surfeit of description, than a bildungsroman or a mystery. (Apr.)