Nathan Active is a state trooper working in a small, remote Alaskan village. He is an Inupiat, born in the village, but raised in Anchorage by white adoptive parents. Despite his real mother living locally, he hopes that within a year he’ll back in the city rather than stuck in the sticks. The suicide rate in the area is high, but when two men seemingly kill themselves in the same week, Active’s interest is piqued. As he starts to investigate it soon becomes clear that the case could encroach into a political minefield that might have major repercussions for the local community. As such, he has to plot a course that tries to uncover the truth without setting off a mine.
The three great strengths of White Sky, Black Ice are sense of place, cultural politics and characterisation. This is very much a book of rural Alaska and of the Inupiat community and its relations amongst itself and the outside world. The landscape is richly evoked and the reader is transported to a place entering an Alaskan winter. Like Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest books, Jones uses the insider/outsider role of the lead character to very good effect. Nathan Active occupies a liminal space between communities. Jones uses the position to examine the nature of the Inupiat community, its various cultural practices, organization and issues. He also nicely captures the politics of resource extraction and the pressures of big business and politics on the lives of ordinary people. The plot is relatively straightforward and my guess is that the average mystery reader will have the murderer identified a long way from the end. What is very nicely done, however, is how the resolution is handled by Nathan Active given its potential ramifications to the local community. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I’ll be reading others in the series.