Friday, July 20, 2012

Review of Shaman Pass by Stan Jones (Soho Press, 2003)

‘Uncle Frosty’, a Inupiat mummy originally found in a cave in Shaman Pass, has been returned to Chukchi, Alaska, by the Smithsonian Institution.  Not everyone is happy that he will be displayed in the local museum rather than being left on the tundra in the traditional way after death.  Within a few hours he has been stolen along with an ancient ivory harpoon and amulet.  A day later Victor Solomon is found out on the ice sheet next to a fishing hole speared with the harpoon.  State Trooper Nathan Active, an Inupiat born locally but raised by white adoptive parents in Anchorage has the task of investigating the death.  The evidence seems to point a local indigenous rights activist, but it is clear that there is more to the case than meets the eye, the key to which is the identity of ‘Uncle Frosty’.

Shaman Pass is a fairly straightforward police procedural, but one given a nice twist through its setting and Nathan Active’s position as an outside insider.  Jones does a very good job of capturing the social relations and tensions of an Inupiat community interfacing with white culture and laws and of placing the reader in the landscape and creating a sense of place.  Active is a solid lead character and provides a nice pair of eyes through which to view the local community and its ways.  The writing is nicely paced and expressive and the plot for the most part works well.  The final third of the story, however, falls a little flat.  The mystery element is gone, replaced with more of a thriller-style conclusion and some sub-plots, such as Active’s relationship with his grandfather, are forgotten.  Overall, Shaman Pass was an enjoyable and engaging read and I’m looking forward to catching up with Trooper Active in the third book in the series, Frozen Sun.


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