I don’t live in a place that has much winter anymore, so when I get the hankering for snow and ice, I tend to reach for mysteries that take place in wintery places. Stan Jones writes a series of entertaining mysteries about an Inupiat state trooper in Chukchi. Nathan Active was fostered to a white family as a baby, so he knows little of the culture of the Inupiat – so an engaging fish out of water story. The focus of the mystery is on several suicides that appear suspicious. The mystery itself isn’t terribly engaging, but it provides the framework for an exploration of the terrible toll of alcoholism on the Inupiat, how the stark environment shapes the culture, the effect of the extraction economy on the people and the land (both positively and negatively), and the struggle of reconciling very different identities.
The two worlds are so different that Nathan’s struggle is real, often funny, and makes him a compelling protagonist. He also is a terrific lens for us to glimpse a rapidly changing culture that is clinging to traditions, while losing young people to the city and alcohol. The whaling camps haven’t changed much, but the Inupiat use snowmobiles to access them; in a particularly amusing passage, Nathan buys his first snow mobile, complete with heated grips, much to the amusement of the townsfolk. Heated grips in Chukchi are only used by women.
If you’re looking to curl up by a fire with an engaging, but not too challenging book while blizzards rage outside, this is certainly worth a look.