If you’ve never traveled to Alaska, you’ll feel you’ve been there anyway once you pick up the Stan Jones habit, as I have.
Jones, Anchorage-born and -bred, is the author of four mystery stories featuring Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active. The two I’ve read — his first (White Sky, Black Ice, and his fourth, Village of the Ghost Bears) — are both set in the predominantly Eskimo village of Chukchi on the Northwest Coast, far from the vast state’s best-known towns, Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks, in the East. Keep in mind that Alaska is roughly three times the size of Texas, and you’ll understand why Nathan Active spends so much time in small airplanes.
Village of the Ghost Bears (Nathan Active #4) by Stan Jones @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Active was born to an unmarried sixteen-year-old Eskimo woman — or, in the local language, Inupiat (“IN-you-pat”) — but raised in Anchorage by Caucasian parents. In the series’ first novel, he found himself stationed where he least wanted to be, back in Chukchi, where his birth-mother lived. Now, in the fourth novel and still in Chukchi, he is trying to talk his girlfriend and her daughter to move with him to Anchorage when his transfer finally comes through. The unexpected strikes, though, and Active is soon caught up in investigating a tragic fire that has killed a number of the villagers, including the local police chief.
Dashing from one village to another, and from one hunter’s camp to the next, mostly with his bush-pilot friend, known only as Cowboy, Active finds himself progressively more confused as the threads of one investigation intersect with the other. The story unfolds quickly, with tension building nearly to the last, but with one last surprise in the closing pages.
Village of the Ghost Bears is a thoroughly satisfying mystery story, but it stands out more for its stark snowbound setting, its depiction of Eskimo culture, and the author’s obviously deep love for the land, than for its excellence as an example of genre fiction. Read it for either reason. You’ll enjoy it.
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