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Issue 74 - The butler's tale

Whisky Magazine Issue 74
September 2008


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The butler's tale

Jefferson Chase delves into a Pulitzer prize winner's follow up work.

In my second installment of a series about under-appreciated second novels, I thought we'd have a stare into Robert Olen Butler's Sun Dogs.

First published in 1982, the book was dismissed as overly esoteric and meandering.

More than a quarter-century on, it's an interesting, slightly esoteric, extremely topical read — the plot revolves around drilling for oil in the pristine wilderness of Alaska.

As the story opens, private investigator Wilson Hand is reeling from his ex-wife's suicide and memories of being tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

To gain some perspective, he takes a case involving data stolen from a petroleum company operating near the Arctic Circle.

His first act in what will prove a twisted journey is to get plastered in a bar with his pilot, Clyde Mazer.

Wilson looked closely at Mazer. The man had been drinking for five hours. Straight bourbon, mostly. His eyes were bloodshot and slightly jaundiced but they were alert. “Can we get out of here tonight?” Wilson said.

“That's what I'm talkin' about. Go on back and get your stuff...” Amazingly, the two men survive the ride.

Once at the drilling station in the extreme North, Wilson becomes intoxicated by the stark, natural beauty of Alaska, and his trip becomes an existential quest.

He completely forgets his investigation.

Nonetheless, someone keeps trying to kill him — once by chucking him out of the base camp into sub-sub-zero exterior temperatures.

He barely makes it back inside aliv...

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