SHAMAN PASS, written by Stan Jones and published in 2005, follows Alaskan State Trooper, Nathan Active. This is the second novel in the series following, WHITE SKY, BLACK ICE. The story is set on the Arctic tundra, in the village of Chukchi and is best described as a police procedural. The opening pages begin with a sheep-fisherman calling dispatch about a dead body found out on Chukchi Bay.
The victim is Victor Solomon, the chairman of the tribal council. He was involved in some tribal politics. He pushed to have “Uncle Frosty”, the unidentified Inupiat mummy shipped from the Smithsonian to the museum in Chukchi. Amid vocal dissent about Uncle Frosty’s remains, it is stolen from the museum along with a whaler’s harpoon which was used to kill the tribal councilman.
SHAMAN PASS is rich in atmosphere. You can just imagine those Arctic wind gusts and below freezing temperatures. The story also moves pretty fast at 289 pages* and is told in third person narrative. The story is rich in detail about the Inupiat culture and customs. In fact, the crime itself while fictional, the background behind it is true per the author’s note. Nathan’s grandfather tells an old Eskimo story about a highly regarded shaman who spoke prophecy and warned about the arrival and changes the white man and Christianity would bring. There was also some shaman rivalry which leads to present day generational blood feud.
The story is not only about solving a crime, it is about Nathan accepting his heritage. His personal life is an open book to us. He was raised by white parents in Anchorage because his teen mother gave him up for adoption. He anxiously awaits the day that he can transfer back to Anchorage. He’s tired of being labeled a naluaqmiiyaaq – the Inupiat word for “an Eskimo who tried to be like a white man.” He is often chided by his Inupiat elders.
His birth mother stays in Chukchi and while they interact with each other, there is still a way to go for healing. In this entry, I felt that Nathan grew a little closer to accepting his heritage. He tries to fit in and the people from Chukchi remind him in their own way, through Inupiat ridicule, of how different he tries to be but they embrace him into the fold. It’s Nathan who is at times – resistant. In here, I felt that his resistance is starting to give just a bit. He has a girlfriend, Lucy, who works in dispatch. There’s a bit of a romance in here as a bonus.
SHAMAN PASS is rich in folklore and old tribal stories. I ate it up. The title of the story, SHAMAN PASS, is described as a “bad place” because the wind blows hard enough to kill caribou, according to the old-timers. The Inupiat language is used liberally throughout the novel and there’s a glossary at the front of the book for reference. There’s humor as well, mostly at the expense of Nathan as he struggles with the language, culture and with his most recent purchase of a purple Yamaha snowmobile that every male in the village labels as a “ladies model.” I had fun reading this story. It was a welcome break after reading a lot of dark crime fiction.
The author has a good ear for dialogue, his characters are memorable, the mystery unfolds at a leisurely pace with the help of the characters who help move things along. Criticism-wise, I did find the ending a bit drawn out and less suspenseful but the author did do some detailed research behind the search technique of finding tracks buried underneath the snow. The culmination of events was set against a snowstorm type blizzard. There is much that I left out and as it should be. I recommend Stan Jones for readers who are looking for a mystery that provides insight and knowledge about another culture and is set in an exotic location. I love stories set in cold climates myself. Another plus is that the stories are not overly violent. My grade, B+. Highly recommend this book and the one before it, if that matters to anyone.
NOTES: I bought his ebook at the trade paperback price of $9.75 at Amazon. There are four books in the series and all are digitized. I am happy to report no formatting errors. You can also read a sample of this book at Google Books and of course, at Amazon as well.
Similar authors you might enjoy: Asa Larsson (Sun Storm) and Dana Stabenow (Fire and Ice) who also write in cold climes. If you have any additional recommendations, please share.