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Chicago Tribune


New York Times


USA Today


Seattle Times


Daily Mail (UK)


Vancouver Sun


is published by

Ecco/HarperCollins USA


Mantle/Pan Macmillan UK

Globo Brazil

Umbriel/Urano Spain

Piemme Italy

Shibsted Norway


Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss, to document some part of the growing war that claimed his own flesh and blood. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, after an argument they both regret, he heads north from Seattle to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government.

While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as “the birthplace of winds.” There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.

Alone in their home three thousand miles to the south, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband’s disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is–and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows.

A powerful, richly atmospheric story of life and death, commitment and sacrifice, The Wind Is Not a Riverilluminates the fragility of life and the fierce power of love.


Payton has delivered a richly detailed, vividly resonant chronicle of war’s effect on ordinary people’s lives.”

Publishers Weekly

“Part adventure tale, part love story, this beautifully written novel offers a moving portrait of a couple whose lives are forever changed by the only battle of WWII to take place on American soil… Payton, in the loveliest of prose, illuminates a little-known aspect of WWII while portraying a devoted couple who bravely face down the isolation, pain, and sacrifice of wartime.”


(starred review)

“This moving and powerfully written novel explores themes of war, life and death, morality, and love in a unique World War II battleground that very few people outside of Alaska know or remember. VERDICT: Payton, known for his nonfiction works Shadow of the Bear and The Ice Passage, has written a suspenseful, beautifully researched title that readers will want to devour in one sitting. As a nearly lifelong inhabitant of Alaska and having spent three years on Adak in the Aleutians, this reviewer was particularly gratified by the accuracy of the author’s portrayal of the land and people of the

‘birthplace of winds.’ Bravo!”

Jane Henriksen Baird, Library Journal


An Amazon Best Book of the Month. “Ambitious…

Like all great novels, The Wind Is Not a River…

is many things at once: a mystery, a war story, a love story, and, at its core, a tale of survival.”

Neal Thompson, Amazon


“(An) engrossing, satisfying novel

about surviving solitude, war, and love.”

Gail Perry, Winnipeg Free Press


“A beautiful, heart-inspiring and heart-wrenching tale of love, forgiveness, loneliness, the strength of the human spirit… These are not the stories we heard from our parents, but they are believable nonetheless.”

Lorinda Hayes, Pittsburg Post-Gazette

“Exquisite… Impeccably researched and sensitively written… I would read anything Payton writes

about landscape.”

Beth Kephart, Chicago Tribune


“A beautifully written love story and an engrossing adventure… Payton is a strong emerging talent… The Wind is Not a River will have readers rooting for the lovers, even as it moves them to tears.”

Laura Eggertson, Toronto Star


“Powerful… You can hardly ask for a more gripping novelistic scenario. The Aleutian landscape itself functions as the novel’s vital principle, a presence all the more haunting for its indifference to human life… The interest of the reader never flags, even to the last page.”

Philip Marchand, The National Post


“Payton seamlessly blends fact and fiction…

In his elegant portrayal of the land and poetic descriptions of the fauna and foliage, his deep affection for the area

and its history shows.”

Alexis Burling, The Oregonian


“Powerful… part epic war story, part love story… Combining these his-and-her stories of mettle, juxtaposing constancy with adaptive flux, Payton emerges with a metaphorical alloy of survival… The pages of this book practically turn themselves… By turns greathearted and grim, The Wind Is Not a River probes the reasons for, and the consequences of, the human practice of war… this story may haunt you long after you’ve put the book down.”

Barbara Lloyd McMichael, The Seattle Times


“The Wind Is Not a River seeks reparation from history by giving light to a ‘forgotten battle’… There’s an immediacy to Payton’s story and his endeavour to reveal this period of wartime censorship, and it resonates beyond

the confines of historical fiction.”

Safa Jinje, The Globe and Mail


“Masterful… a gripping novel to be cherished and passed on to anyone who appreciates fine writing.”

Diane Weddington,


“Easley takes a big risk, but Payton takes even bigger ones throughout this thoughtful, meticulously observed novel. Then Payton raises the creative stakes even higher. . . Payton is merciless with his readers — he brings Helen and Easley tantalizingly close, again and again, only to have them miss — but quite tender with his characters. ‘Some men,’ Easley muses, staring at the bleak, gray Aleutian horizon, ‘have the great misfortune to stand at life’s continental divide and see that the land beyond is barren. There is no hope of turning back. What does one do with this view?’ The answer comes soon enough. Some men — Easley — do find reason for hope, and still others — author Payton now chief among them — find enormous if shattering beauty in the forbidding view

the Aleutians afford.”

Liam Callanan

Washington Independent Review of Books


“In his gripping, meditative second novel, Brian Payton explores (a) nearly forgotten chapter of American history… The borders between ingenuity and insanity, honor and murder, all blur as Easley comes face to face with the darkest parts of human nature… As the story opens out from Easley’s desperate struggle for survival, Payton’s larger theme emerges: People do what they have to do to survive, but what do they survive for? An act of kindness may be rewarded with death; inside every victory lies defeat. Sometimes circumstances force us to reimagine who we are and what we’re capable of doing.”

Sarah Ferguson, The New York Times


“This is sweeping epic romance, war-torn drama. Think Cold Mountain, think English Patient… Only we’re in the Second World War, and we’re in a theatre of war not only did I know nothing about, I didn’t even know existed: the Alaskan front… Brilliant… man vs. nature, beautiful descriptions of this wild, untamed landscape… poignant musings about the impact of war. Not just the loss of life, but the unquantifiable loss of the future

that you should have had.”

Samantha Buckley, BBC Radio 2


“The perfect storm of a wartime love story…

written with beautiful clarity and feeling.”

Kate Sanders, The Times (UK)


“Brian Payton weaves a rich and evocative tale of life and death, love and faith, determination and resilience… Heartbreaking and yet inspirational in its moving depiction of the indomitable nature of the human spirit, The Wind Is Not a River explores how war impacts on ordinary people and the extraordinary sacrifices they are prepared to make. Using spare prose and understated pathos, Payton conveys the brutality, isolation and suffering of war whilst delivering a memorable romance and a thrilling, action-packed adventure. This is an emotionally powerful and resonant story packed with painstaking research, a fascinating slice of little-known American history and an intimate portrait of how people cope under intolerable pressure… and how far they will go for love.”

Pam NorfolkThe Visitor (UK)


“Rich in emotion, this war novel is

a tale of enduring love.”



“The Wind is Not a River is a powerful, engaging book… Throughout, Payton’s writing is exceptional: lyrical in its descriptions of beauty or memories of a better time, and hauntingly stark in its depictions of the horrors of war. It is both a war story that condemns war and a love story that shows how love may be the only thing that can redeem

the terrible consequences of war.”

Joe WiebeVancouver Sun


“A beautifully written love story of sacrifice and devotion combined with an adventure story set in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands—the location of the only WWII battle on American soil. A heart-stopping read.”

My Weekly (UK)


“Vivid… a twisting tale of survival, sacrifice, and war. This evocative novel is a deeply moving read which commands your full attention.”

Press Association (UK)


“A classic wartime narrative that’s deeply personal

and masterfully crafted.”

Julie HaleBookPage


“Superb fiction… deeply moving… carefully researched and beautifully written…The Wind is Not a River is, at once, a war story, a love story, a survival story and a meditation on what it is to be human in desperate times.”

Nancy LordAlaska Dispatch News



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Brian Payton’s debut novel is a dark and comic coming-of-age tale set in an all-male society. Taut, compelling, and remarkably assured, Hail Mary Corner leads readers into unfamiliar territory past an emotional frontier we all must cross: the uncertain ground between adolescence and adulthood.  

High on a cliff above a pulp-mill town on Vancouver Island, sixteen-year-old Bill MacAvoy and his friends lead cloistered lives while other boys their age run free. It may be the fall of 1982, but inside the walls of their Benedictine seminary they inhabit a medieval world steeped in ritual and discipline—a place where black-robed monks move like shadows between doubt and faith.    

Isolated from the outside, Bill and his friends develop a unique and often hilarious culture. Schooled in the virtues of sacrifice and service, they instead learn to challenge, resist, and wield power over one another’s lives.    

On the road to certain expulsion, Bill discovers two secrets: one concerns Brother Thomas, the monk who watches his every move; the other involves his best friend, Jon. In Bill’s hands these secrets prove dangerous weapons. Handled carelessly, they trigger an event that threatens to haunt him for the rest of his life.  


Told with compassion, wit, and wisdom, Hail Mary Corner is a powerful tale of friendship and tyranny, love and loneliness, betrayal and forgiveness.


 “Brutally honest…. immediately captures the imagination. This is a story of a fall from grace, which happens so swiftly and triggers such tragedy that you wonder how a young teenage boy could ever recover. (Hail Mary Corner) offers no extenuating excuses or final absolution but leads to self-awareness and, ultimately, peace.”

 —Sunday Telegram

 “A frank and touching first novel, bringing rare twists to the well-trod literary path of the boarding-school bildungsroman. Payton’s grotty, doctrinaire cloister resonates with immediacy and authorial assurance…. Among coming-out stories, Payton’s tale seems to me unique. Narrated by a callow homophobe, it moves through prejudice, betrayal and violence to a conclusion of equal parts redemption and regret.…

Pack(s) a cathartic wallop.”

 —Globe and Mail


 “Brian Payton’s first novel rises above its genre….

(Hail Mary Corner) is an accomplished debut…a deft and heartrending portrayal of questioning, dissolution and tragedy along the rocky path to manhood.”

Vancouver Sun

 “This is a first novel. It is also a fine novel….

Although the narrative has something serious to tell us about growing up, friendship and loss, the narration itself is funny and insightful. Time and time again, I found myself laughing and saying to others, ‘Listen to this.'”


 “Hail Mary Corner (is) a gentle meditation on morality and maturity, learning and loss…. This is a thoroughly readable novel with moments of genuine humour, insight, and emotional depth, and Payton’s fiction debut should mark the start of a fine storytelling career.”

 —Georgia Straight

 “Hail Mary Corner is an engrossing, funny and moving debut…. Payton very effectively evokes the awesome mystery of the Roman Catholic church, examining the secretive realm of faith and religion….

powerfully authentic….”

 —Victoria Times-Colonist

 “A sensitive, original story about growing up…. Payton is a beguiling voice and his insight into a character-forging moment is so forthright it’s unsteadying. The laughs are plentiful and the sense of place is strong. Many a first novel should be so lucky.”

Edmonton Journal

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We have been meeting them in the wilderness, and in our dreams, since the dawn of human history. Immortalized in art and myth since we began drawing on the walls of caves, they cast a long shadow over our collective subconscious. Wherever bears endure, they are an indicator of the health of their ecosystem. Their decline—some to the edge of extinction—foretells a bigger story: that of our planet’s peril.

In a series of remarkable journeys, Brian Payton travels the world in search of the eight remaining bear species. Along the way, he encounters poachers in the jungles of Cambodia, the cruelty of China’s bear bile trade, and Canada’s insatiable polar bear paparazzi. From the spectacled bears of a cursed Peruvian mountain, to the man-eating sloth bears of India, Payton vividly captures the power and beauty of these majestic creatures while exploring their unique place within very different cultures. His quest ultimately leads to the Colorado Plateau, where an ancient reverence for black bears collides with the will of trophy hunters in pursuit of game they do not eat. The result is a collection of gripping and moving meditations on the fate of wilderness—and the vestiges of wildness in us all.

True tales masterfully told, Shadow of the Bear chronicles an unforgettable trek down the braided path of bear and human experience. (Published in the UK as IN BEAR COUNTRY.) 

Barnes and Noble Book Club Pick

Best Outdoor Book of the Year 

(National Outdoor Book Awards)

Vancouver Magazine Best Book

Finalist Best Book, Adventure Travel 

(Banff Mountain Book Festival)

 “Accomplished and complex… Shadow of the Bear: Travels in Vanishing Wilderness is top-rate… (Payton) documents more than just an animal under siege by hunters, global warming, shrinking habitat, and a dwindling food chain. He grapples with huge moral questions… Six of the eight species are now vulnerable or endangered. His hope is that by learning their names and stories, their facts and myths, we may come to care as he does. It’s an infectious evangelism.”

Georgia Straight

  “Payton’s Shadow of the Bear is a gripping story of a species at the crossroads of extinction… Compelling and absorbing, Shadow of the Bear is an in-depth and thoughtful look at a species that may just be tied to the future of humanity itself.”

Winnipeg Free Press


 “Payton so elegantly articulates the ranges of human experiences with bears in many cultures… The bear and the wilderness, although threatened, still exist and are too important for civilization to lose. Brian Payton’s book makes this abundantly clear.”

The Globe and Mail


“High adventure combined with dazzling

passages of nature writing.”



“Insightful and compelling,

Shadow of the Bear appeals to both the heart

and the mind.”

Quill & Quire


 “An extremely satisfying and sometimes

provocative read.”

Publishers Weekly


 “A fine work of narrative nonfiction, sure to please anyone interested in natural history.”

—Nancy Pearl, NPR and Book Lust

 “Certainly among the most sustained efforts to investigate the bear-human relationship ever recorded. Extremely rewarding reading… poetic… These increasingly fascinating stories accumulate until it becomes clear that our coexistence with bears proves a despairingly delicate one, but one that can only benefit from our knowledge of what Payton has devoted so much time

and heart to learning.”

Edmonton Journal


 “A fascinating and often poignant look, not only at the lives of the bears themselves, but at how their relationship with man has evolved from one of mystery and mutual respect, to one of exploitation and virtual extinction.”


 “Essential reading.”

Vue Weekly


National Geographic Adventure

 “Shadow of the Bear is the best kind of travel book: eloquent, thoughtful and beautifully written…

reminiscent of Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux.”

Green Living


“Nature writing at its best… read this and weep.”

Good Reading Magazine (Australia)

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It begins as a mission of mercy. Four and a half years after the disappearance of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin and his two ships, HMS Investigator sets sail to find them. Instead of rescuing lost comrades, the Investigator’s officers and crew soon find themselves trapped in their own ordeal, facing starvation, madness, and death on the unknown Polar Sea. If only they can save themselves, they will bring back news of perhaps the greatest maritime achievement of the age: their discovery of the final link of the elusive Northwest Passage.

In addition to their Great Success, the “Investigators” are the first Europeans to contact the Inuit of the western Arctic Archipelago, and the first to record sustained observations of the local wildlife and climate. But the cost of hubris, ignorance, daring, and deceit is soon laid bare. In the face of catastrophe, a desperate rescue plan is made to send away the weakest men to meet their fate on the ice.


In a narrative rich with insight and grace, Brian Payton reconstructs the final voyage of the Investigatorand the trials of her officers and crew. Drawing on long-forgotten journals, transcripts, and correspondence — some never before published — Payton weaves an astonishing tale of endurance. Along the way, he vividly evokes an Arctic wilderness we now stand to lose.


“A book of uncommon economy and power. Payton’s gripping tale of survival, hardship and ambition unfolds with the austere inevitability of Greek tragedy. A profoundly human drama—

absorbing, haunting and plaintive.”

—John DeMont, author of Coal Black Heart

“For centuries, men have seen the polar ice cap as mute, nothing more than an obstacle or untapped resource. The Ice Passage passionately re-envisions the Arctic as a complex character in its own right, one that combines solemnity with ferocity with heartbreaking vulnerability. On the face of it, Brian Payton has written a book of science and adventure, but it is ultimately a portrait

of our diminishing landscape.”

—Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle

“Payton has written a book as fine as any about our north and those men of yesteryear—

tough, enduring, and as essential as Conrad.”

—David Adams Richards,

author of Mercy Among the Children 


“A rich and powerful account of relentless suffering, endurance, and ultimate triumph in the polar ice.”

—John Geiger, author of Frozen In Time 

“(A) little-known tale of Shackletonian proportions, a story of historic firsts…a multi-layered drama that is

as human as it is heroic.”

—Geoff D’Auria, The Tyee

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