Book Reviews

Alan's haunting novel of the AIDS epidemic, As If Death Summoned, was released on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2020, and has won the Foreword INDIES LGBT Book of the Year Award. Watch the book trailer here. Read the reviews here.

Spike Walker

St. Martin’s Press

The rogue wave plowed into the bow [of the grounded freighter] and erupted skyward, producing a spectacular wall of ocean spray. The prevailing direction of the wind carried the curtainlike veil of leaden spray over the comparatively tiny, embattled figure of the H-60 rising before them, enveloping the sixty-five-foot-long helicopter, rotor blades, cockpit, rear cabin, tail section, tail rotor and all, essentially swallowing the aircraft whole … the helicopter seemed to falter in midair. Then it began its descent.

                                from On the Edge of Survival


A shipwreck, a raging storm, and the harrowing Alaskan rescue that became a legend

If there is a male counterpart to Chick Lit, it must be this kind of book. A guy’s book.

Northwest writer Spike Walker, author of Nights of Ice, Coming Back Alive, and Working on the Edge, has crafted another harrowing real-life thriller about man (there are no women in this story) against nature.

On December 8, 2004, the 738-foot freighter, Selendang Ayu, lost its engines in the midst of a raging storm off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Without power, the giant ship began drifting toward the treacherous coast, certain to be broken up by the gale-force winds and mountainous, 35 to 50 foot waves.

Two H-60 Jayhawk helicopters from the Coast Guard station at Dutch Harbor set out to rescue the ship’s twenty-six sailors. Dropping rescue baskets from 100-200 feet above the freighter, the helicopter crew began pulling up the men one at a time.

When one of the Jayhawks has to return to its base due to mechanical problems, the remaining helicopter continues removing the last nine sailors. Then, in the midst of a perfect rescue operation, nature throws them a curve.

A giant wave suddenly comes out of the night, slamming into the freighter, and shooting a wall of water several hundred feet into the air, totally swallowing the helicopter, and washing it from the sky.

A second smaller H-65 Dolphin helicopter makes a dangerous launch from a nearby Coast Guard cutter, setting out to rescue the rescuers.

Walker has once again written a breath-taking, heart-pounding, white-knuckled (let’s see, what other clichés can I throw in here?) gripping adventure. It’s not surprising his books inspired the hit television show, The Deadliest Catch.

He writes with a you-are-there immediacy, often times replaying the same critical moment from different points of view: of the commander of the Coast Guard cutter, watching the helicopter falling from the sky; the pilot as his copter stalls and begins to drop toward the churning sea; the young rescue swimmer on the doomed ship, watching the helicopter plunging down toward him.

This is stirring stuff, a guy’s book, about raw courage, endurance, sacrifice, and, too, about male bonds that go as deep as love.


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (November 15-December 14, 2010). Reprinted with permission.

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