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Gentleman Caller

Past Lies by Bobby Hutchinson
(Harl. Super. #1325, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0-373-71325-8
Set in Alaska, this tale has some elements seen in many books set in the wilds of that state and a few that are new. Past Lies is centered on characters that need to find out who they are, making it seem like a familiar tale, even though it is an enjoyable story.

Alex Nolan is a multiply-talented man who is currently ready to earn some money as a carpenter in Alaska. He comes from San Diego, where he grew up thinking he was the son of one man, only to discover he is actually the son of Roy Nolan, an adventurer who came to Alaska and died in the wilderness. Alex never connected to his step-father and upon his death, his mother told him the truth, while giving him a few letters she had from Roy. Alex feels the need to go out into the bush and try to discover what Roy was looking for. Alex is also recently divorced and still mourning his young daughter. He feels the need to explore Alaska, but he is a Californian at heart and plans to return there.

Ivy Pierce was born in Alaska. Her father Tom came and made his way with his wife, Frances. Tom owns and operates an airline operation that gives tours and carts people where they need to go just outside Valdez Alaska. He has taught Ivy everything she needs to know and she is as expert a pilot as he. Ivy adores her father. She and her mother, an ex-model, never saw eye to eye. Her motherís depression did not help in strengthening their relationship. Now Ivy is content to fly, where she feels she is connected and a part of the world. Her aunt and uncle operate a resort and she has cousins that she contacts. Ivy cannot imagine living anywhere else, even though she has never been out of the state.

Complications abound and bring these two together. There are injuries, unexpected trips together and a family crisis which requires them to all pull together. Alex and Ivy first fight and then acknowledge their attraction, all the while stating that there can be nothing permanent. They are at cross purposes when Ivy says she is only interested in a long-term relationship and Alex demands that nothing come of their attraction.

The picture of Alaska is artfully done, creating an image of vivid wilderness and hometown community. The sense of danger, blended with carving out a life, adds to the vision of the type of person who settled and still lives in Alaska. There is an awe of the surroundings and an inherent respect for the power of nature.

Ivy is a strong character in terms of her hardiness, her common sense, and her ability to live and prosper in Alaska. She is less defined emotionally and it is her growth as a person that we see in the story. Alex seems weaker (his introduction includes the fact that he gets airsick and he is grieving over his daughter) and takes longer to see his strengths. This left me with a sense of their relationship being out of balance for a good part of the story.

Tom and Frances undergo transformations throughout the tale and while interesting, detracted from the primary story of Alex and Ivy. Other characters were not defined and were only coincidental to the storyline.

Past Lies is fairly predictable and yet there are some intriguing action sequences that can only be seen in a place like Alaska. Having a helicopter catch fire and dealing with a cardiac emergency are just two of those sequences. These helped move the story. But with the primary tale about two people learning what is important about loving, the story ultimately satisfies but does no more.

--Shirley Lyons

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