Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mystery Book Review: Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones

A Nathan Active Mystery

Soho Crime (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-606-3 (1569476063)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-606-2 (9781569476062)
Publication Date: December 2009
List Price: $24.00

Review: Inupiaq Alaskan State Trooper Nathan Active investigates a mysterious fire while separately seeking to identify a dead body found washed ashore on a nearby lake in Village of the Ghost Bears, the fourth mystery in this series by Stan Jones.

Active and his longtime love Grace are just beginning a camping trip along the shores of One-Way Lake when they stumble upon the body of a man whose face has been eaten away by local pike. But before they can arrange to have the body recovered, Active is called to the small town of Chukchi, a coastal village in northwest Alaska, where a recreation center has burned down, killing eight people who were trapped inside when the exit doors were wired shut. The motive for arson isn't obvious, nor is one for murder ... if one of the dead was the intended target. Then there's still that unknown man at One-Way Lake. Almost certainly an accidental death from a fall, but until the body can be recovered and identified it remains another mystery for Active to solve.

Though Active pursues his arson investigation with appropriate aplomb, the real appeal in Village of the Ghost Bears comes from the depiction of life in a small town and region in a remote part of the country. The fairly straight-forward plot moves along briskly, no doubt helped by a considerable amount of dialog, though a few more paragraphs of simple, descriptive narrative would have helped develop a more atmospheric setting for the characters. Still, there's no denying the excitement generated by some of the more thrilling aspects of the story, especially when Active and bush pilot Cowboy are flying off somewhere.

Active watched as the pass crawled closer on Cowboy's side of the plane. Through the mist and snow, he thought he glimpsed a rock-walled valley on the south side, with a thread of water in its center diving toward the Isignaq River far below. Cowboy yelled "Here we go!" over the intercom, and the world rotated ninety degrees as he snapped the plane into a punishing left turn. He leveled the wings just in time to skim across the saddle so low that Active thought for a moment he had decided to land and taxi to the far edge. Then the terrain fell away, Cowboy dropped the nose, and they were under the clouds and in relatively clear air, hurrying down the rocky valley Active had glimpsed moments earlier.

There aren't many mystery series set in Alaska, so it's always a pleasure to read one such as Village of the Ghost Bears that not only crafts an interesting story but also pays tribute to both the land and its people.

Special thanks to Soho Press for providing an ARC of Village of the Ghost Bears for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active must figure out what connects a dead hunter on a remote Arctic lake with a year-old fatal plane crash in the Brooks Range and a fire at the Chukchi Recreation Center that killed eight people, including the town’s basketball star. The case turns out to involve a lucrative polar bear poaching operation and the intense bond between a brother and sister from the village of Cape Goodwin, famous in the Arctic for twins, polar bears, and schizophrenia. The heart of the matter, he discovers, is a dead woman whose killer remembers her as having a mouth so sweet “it was like kissing a Hershey bar.”

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