Sunday, February 14, 2016

Stan Jones, Tundra Kill

The most recent novel in the Nathan Active series by Stan Jones, set in the town of Chukchi in the north of Alaska, offers a lot of native culture and Arctic life. Jones's books always use native language and the distinctive quality of life in a small town of blended native and outsider peoples (and Nathan himself, adopted out of the culture as a child and now returned as a cop, is thought of locally as half-native, but learning. He's now attached to Grace Palmer, the emotionally wounded woman from an earlier novel, as well as her adopted daughter.

What Tundra Kill adds to the mix is aother artifact of Alaska's history and culture: a female governor with national ambitions and a folksy style: not Sarah Palin but a later (and current) governor cut from the same cloth. There is considerable Palin-esque satire in the earlier segments and in the governor's Palin-esque language throughout. But the plot actually turns on the death of a local man in a still-frigid incident: he was apparently run over by a snowmobile. Afte rthe discovery of the body, the plot actually moves back in time, to a visit by the governor, who asks for Nathan, now the chief of the newly reconstituted local police (he was formerly a state trooper), to be her bodyguard as she tours the area (her original home) on the occasion of her husband's participation in an annual dog-sled race.

The governor and Nathan get stuck in a snowstorm when their plane is forced down (the plane incident is a thrilling piece of writing, I suspect Jones has some knowledge of flying in the Arctic). When we return to Chukchi and the investigation of the death-by-snowmobile, the threads of the plot begin to tighter around Nathan, constricting his ability to conduct his search for the killer as well as his job and his relationship with Grace.

The result is an effective combination of crime story and satire, which moves surprisingly deeply in a sexual direction, because of Grace's difficulty in achieving a normal sexual relationship with Nathan (because of her past trauma) but also for other reasons related to the current plot. The Nathan Active stories are always lively and interesting, as well as offering plots wholly consistent with the Arctic location: plus they have not come along frequently enough--one can hope for another new one before too long.

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