Cecil Younger

Created by John Straley

“There is something ardent and romantic about getting drunk. I feel like it’s a homecoming and a departure all at once.”
— Cecil gets all mopey about drinking in The Woman Who Married a Bear

CECIL YOUNGER has at least two claims to fame: he works the mean… er, roads, trails and paths, I guess, of the port city of Sitka, Alaska, and he’s just gotta be the only hard-boiled dick named Cecil. He’s a sensitive, introspective, literate type driven by a compulsive curiousity on the one hand, and on the other, he’s cynical, shiftless, and self-centered and investigator with a nasty drinking problem and a legacy left to him by his father that he’ll never be able to live up to. And the fact is, even by his own admission Cecil isn’t even that good a private investigator.

Nevertheless, Cecil plunges on, trying to get at his version of the truth, or at least the version his client wants:

“…my father…the sainted Judge Young…was a man who could give you the whole truth, but as a private investigator the best I can do is try and create the most acceptable version…Cops are different, they’re right there with sirens screaming and lights flashing, speaking to breathless witnesses who usually don’t have time to think….It’s weeks, maybe months, by the time I get to them. Impressions have changed to suit opinions, and everyone wants to become a judge. If cops collect the oral history of a crime, I gather folklore.”
— The Woman Who Married a Bear

In fact, Cecil’s quest usually involves plowing through stories of all kinds, cold hard facts, vague recollections, myths, legends, drunken fantasies, public records, old newspapers, gossip and rumours. Seems everyone he meets seems to have a story. But hell, what else can you do?

As Marilyn Stasio of The New York Times Book Review said, “Those cute folks on ‘Northern Exposure’ wouldn’t last the winter in (Cecil’s Alaska where) barrooms are dangerous, race relations are touchy, and the landscape is too awesome for a man to look at without a drink.” And the PWA liked it too. They awarded Cecil’s debut with the 1993 Shamus for Best First Private Eye Novel.

And so it goes. Quietly, without attracting much attention, Straley somehow wrote one of the great P.I. series of the nineties, a gritty, literate study of a flawed but compassionate man struggling with the wildness within and without; an oddball combo of the poetic grandeur of James Lee Burke, the gonzo territory of Carl Hiaasen and the slow burn melancholy of Ross Macdonald. He seemed to have wrapped up the series in 2001, with Cold Water Burning, but seventeen years later, Cecil returned with Baby’s First Felony (2018).

Author Straley knows his stuff–not surprising considering he’s worked as an investigator for the the public defender’s office of the state of Alaska. John Straley lives in Sitka, Alaska, with wife, a marine biologist who studies whales, in a bright green house on the beach in Sitka, Alaska, where he works as a criminal defense investigator by day and sleeps, writes, and plays with his band, The Big Fat Babies, whenever he can. He also writes the Cold Storage series, a series of historical novels mostly set in Cold Storage, Alaska, and starring an assortment of oddballs and kooks that would be right at home in Cecil’s novels.


  • “Lesser writers look to their characters’ poor choices and attempts to rectify them, John Straley loves his characters for just those choices.  Hölderlin wrote: ‘Poetically man dwells on the earth.’ Some of us wind up in limericks, some in heroic couplets. But damned near every one of us, sooner or later, ends up in one of Straley’s wise, wayward, wonderfully unhinged novels.”
    — James Sallis
  • “Like the Coen brothers on literary speed, John Straley is among the very best stylists of his generation.”
    — Ken Bruen
  • “The voice is so original that it can only belong to John Straley…. Definitely up there with the great ones.”
    — Chicago Tribune
  • “Mr. Straley’s prose continues to dazzle…. his word-pictures have a hallucinatory brilliance appropriate…to the eerie beauty of the Alaskan landscape.”
    — The Wall Street Journal


  • Hannah: “You love mysteries so much, Cecil, I think you’ve made a virtue of confusion.”
    — The Man Who Married a Bear


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

Leave a Reply