From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, June 13/11. The 2015 Iditarod starts Sat. March 7th.
A 1991 mystery novel by Sue Henry. Murder on the Iditarod Trail is good. Several murders: at first I thought she just wanted to use all the ways she’d thought of for murder in a dogteam race. But actually all the murders are necessary for the plot line. They’re inventive and the murder mystery part of the book is good – right to the end.
But what’s just as good is you, the reader, are going along with the teams every hard mile of the race. You get put inside it, why and how people and their dogs do this sometimes year after year. You also get some of the history and geography of Alaska – of the race itself, the gold-rush, the land and the peoples both aboriginal and white settlers.
Women mushers, animal activists and poodles
She takes on political controversies that have been part of the Itidarod for the past few decades. Many male racers opposed women entering the competition. Henry discusses this through the plot line and a female musher who is a main character*. She also discusses the animal welfare activists who have sought to shut down the race. She addresses the issue of the dogs’ health and safety throughout as background of the actual running and the protestors as possible murder suspects.
Henry has lived in Alaska for many years and clearly is a proponent and admirer of the Iditarod – the mushers and dogs, as well as the terrain and the history. There’s nothing ‘preachy’ in her inclusion of the politics of the race; it’s presented as a natural part of her story.
This book is the first in what became a series of novels featuring the two main characters in it. I look forward to reading the rest of her books. They’ll be the closest I ever come to running the Iditarod myself.
* The statements made by men in the book about why women shouldn’t be running made me think of a 1980s tongue-in-cheek state ‘slogan’ I came across: “Alaska, where women win the Iditarod and men mush Poodles”. During that decade, women won several times and teams of Standard Poodles ran it respectably.