When I read a mystery or a thriller, I can be drawn into the story by virtue of the author’s skill in plotting, characterization, or writing skill. But I find myself truly engrossed only when the subject matter itself — the setting, the circumstances, or the backstory — is of interest. At any rate, that was what found when I read the second of Stan Jones‘ Nathan Active novels of crime in Alaska, Shaman Pass.
In Shaman Pass, Jones delves deeply into the history of the Inupiat (“Eskimo”) people of Alaska. The shaman referred to in the title, though long dead, figures as a major character in the novel when his mummy is stolen en route from the Smithsonian Institution to the Inupiat community that has voted to put it on display in a tourist museum to raise money. In the course of searching for the thief, Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active learns that the president of the Native community who had pushed for putting the mummy on display has been murdered — with an ancient ivory harpoon that had been shipped into town along with the mummy.
Shaman Pass (Nathan Active #2) by Stan Jones @@@@ (4 out of 5)
As Active searches for the killer, he beomes more and more deeply immersed in the history and culture of the Chukchi community where he was born and where the theft and the murder took place. His search takes him on a century-long journey and across the frozen tundra for hundreds of miles by snowmobile and by airplane. With Active encountering surprises and reversals all along the way, it’s a fascinating trip.
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