In Northern Exposure Debra Brown strands her hero and heroine in a wilderness area in Alaska, fighting the rough terrain, weather and an unknown man who is trying to separate them by creating life-threatening accidents.
Wendy Walters, high profile and high fashion photographer, had been tarred and feathered by the press for her involvement in the death of a popular male model. Fired by her boss and blackballed by the fashion industry, she grasps at the one straw available to secure a job for a wilderness magazine.
With the help of a college friend she secures the promise of a job if she can photograph bull caribou in Alaska. A feat that apparently had not heretofore been accomplished. Relying on her northern Michigan upbringing in the backpacking arena, Wendy enters the wilderness area by herself.
Department of Fish and Game Warden Joe Peterson spots Wendy carrying what appears to him to be a rifle, but is in reality a tripod case. He finally catches her and attempts to place her under arrest for poaching. Because he doesn’t believe she is really a wildlife photographer and is up to something, he forces her to go to one of the DFG outposts for the night while he checks her story. This exchange and the resulting trip to the cabin is the weakest and most contrived part of the book.
Joe has exiled himself to this wilderness post as punishment for the death of his younger sister. She had been a beautiful, young girl, but an unstable one. A model, she had died the prior year in New York City from an overdose of drugs.
The second contrived situation is Joe having copies of the tabloids that chronicle Wendy’s fall from grace. While disdainful of tabloids in theory, he nonetheless believes the facts as they portray them. So seeing Wendy as representative of all that had gone wrong for his sister, Joe is happy to see the last of her the next day as an associate drops by to take her back to her vehicle.
Joe misread Wendy and is stunned to learn she is off again in the wilderness to find the caribou. Feeling responsible he tracks her, noticing someone else is tracking her as well. What follows is the wilderness experience.
This part of the book is well done, leaving the reader with little doubt that the author is truly at home writing this type of adventure. She does a good job of sustaining the mystery of the person in pursuit and the growing romance between Joe and Wendy. The scene descriptions are vivid and create a sense of ambiance found in too few books.
Brown does a particularly good job developing Wendy into a multi-dimensional person. She almost totally centers on Joe’s emotional baggage to define him and as a result he is less than complete. In the midst of the great abundance of angst, the author focuses primarily on the control issues. Both Wendy and Joe have them, each coming from a very different perspective.
The unevenness of the story makes Northern Exposure an average but nonetheless enjoyable read.