Friday, January 6, 2017

White Sky, Black Ice by Stan Jones

Title: White Sky, Black Ice  (Nathan Active Mysteries #1)
Author: Stan Jones
Publisher: Soho Crime
Publication Year: 2003
Pages: 284

Genre: Mystery
My Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Synopsis (from the back cover)

Born to a poor Inupiat girl in Chukchi, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, State Trooper Nathan Active was adopted and raised by a white family in Anchorage. Now, an unwelcome job reassignment has returned him to the stark, beautiful landscape of poverty-stricken Chukchi. Two suspicious suicides in the span of a week and rumors of trouble in the village and at the local copper mine lead Active to believe there is a killer at large. As a nalauqmiiyaaq, or someone regarded by the community as “halfwhite,” he must fight for every clue before the killer strikes again.


I picked this book up at an indie mystery bookstore on a recent trip to Seattle. One of the nerdy things I love to on vacation is look for locally set books or books by local authors to immerse myself in the location I am visiting. While this book is not set in Seattle, its atmospheric descriptions of rural Alaska matched the gloomy weather and were one of the most captivating parts of the story. While the mystery/twist of the story was not the most original, there are several aspects of this story which make it stand out in a positive way and made me look forward to continuing with the series. 

The first is the treatment of race, specifically, the interplay between indigenous Alaskan people and white Americans as a central element to the story and not just as a backdrop. The main character himself is an indigenous man raised by white parents. The author manages to paint an unflinching portrait of complicated race relations in one of the most remote corners of the United States. Alcoholism, poverty, identity, sex, intermarriage and community are all addressed and confronted by the characters in a way that feels authentic and sympathetic without feeling sugarcoated or preachy. While race issues are being portrayed more frequently in mysteries, this is the first mystery I've come across that centers white/Inuit relations and it does so very well.
The second is the main character himself, Nathan Active is a sympathetic main character. Born to an alcoholic teen Inuit mother and adopted by a white family, the last thing that he wants is to return to his small hometown where his is regarded as a nalauqmiiyaaq or half white. Nathan's struggles that come with his identity and his willingness to bend the rules to do the right thing make him a sympathetic character that you want to cheer on.
Lastly, the writing, while simple, manages to evoke a beautiful portrait of the Alaskan wilderness. It is a place I have never visited but Jones manages to paint a landscape you can almost see. The landscape feels like another character in the story; beautiful, wild and dangerous and it plays a part in the story as well, after all it's not possible to kill someone without leaving footprints in the snow, or IS IT? dun dun dunnnn.

In conclusion, although this is not the most mindbending of mysteries it is certainly a title worth picking up and I can't wait to continuing with the series.



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