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Frozen Sun Reviews
New York Times:No one shows you the ugly side of Alaska the way Stan Jones does in his somber novels about Nathan Active, an Eskimo state trooper posted back to Chukchi, his native village in the Arctic Circle. In FROZEN SUN, Nathan is sent to balmy Anchorage for computer training, giving him a chance to track down Grace Sikingik Palmer, a former “Miss North World” and onetime pride of the village, now rumored to be a homeless prostitute working Anchorage’s infamous Four Street district. After giving her up for dead, Nathan learns that his fallen angel may be working in a fish-processing plant in the Aleutian Islands. It’s a hellish place (“You not puke in here, you go in john,” the line foreman warns Nathan), and Jones makes no attempt to prettify it. Just as he doesn’t pretend to find anything remotely character-building in the conditions of those who have survived the unforgiving climate of the Arctic only to disappear on the streets.
They call her Amazing
Grace and, dead or alive, Alaska state trooper Nathan Active has to
find her. Grace Palmer is a golden child. So smart and so "beautiful
from the day she was born," her father tells state trooper Nathan
Active. That's why, he claims, he named her Grace. But the golden child
is gone, dropped out from the university in Anchorage. Why? No one
knows, and her parents have stopped asking. Now, however, her dying
mother wants desperately to say goodbye. Could Nathan please go to
Anchorage to look for her? Our hero is reluctant. For one thing, he's
half convinced she's dead. A more disconcerting reason is harder to
acknowledge, even to himself: He's been bewitched by her picture. At
any rate, in Anchorage he discovers that Amazing Grace, as she's known
in Four Street's bad bars and dangerous dives, has spiraled downward,
her life a dismal history of exploitative men, run-ins with cops,
violence and booze. Depressed and discouraged, Nathan sees little hope
that she has survived this nonstop array of largely self-inflicted
wounds. But Grace is indeed amazing. And unpredictable. And determined.
And, as Nathan learns the hard way, oh so tricky. That rare thing, a
deftly plotted mystery that's also an irresistible love story. With it,
Jones's Alaska series (Shaman Pass, 2003, etc.) takes a quantum leap
Nathan Active, an Alaskan trooper assigned to Chukchi, an Inupiat Eskimo village in the Arctic where he was born, is looking for the estranged daughter of the local high school principal because her mother is dying of liver cancer. When the principal is found shot to death, the girl is the only suspect. This third book in Jones's Alaskan series (White Sky, Black Ice; Shaman Pass) does not disappoint. The investigation turns Active's life upside down and reshuffles his beliefs. Readers of Dana Stabenow and Mike Doogan will appreciate Jones's take on Alaskan justice. Recommended for all collections.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:“Frozen Sun” is the third installment in author Stan Jones’ “Nathan Active Mystery” series, but it’s the first for me. I hadn’t previously encountered Active, an Alaska State Trooper stationed in the fictional northern coastal village of Chukchi (think Kotzebue with a slight twist of Barrow). But that didn’t turn out to be a problem. Jones hasn’t dragged too many details in from the preceding novels as far as I can tell; so new readers won’t be confused if they dive into the series with this finely crafted and thoroughly enjoyable tale.
“Frozen Sun” opens with a meeting between Active, a half-Native trooper who was born in Chukchi but raised by adoptive white parents in Anchorage, and Jason Palmer, the principal at Chukchi High School. Palmer gives Active a collection of photographs and information about his grown daughter, Grace, a former teen beauty queen and honor student who had gone off to Anchorage to attend the University of Alaska, only to be drawn in to the drunken street life on that city’s Fourth Avenue (which is referred to as “Four Street” throughout this book).
Grace has been gone from the family’s life for a decade by this point, and was last seen just briefly by her brother three years previous stumbling out of a bar in the company of a pair of GIs. She had cursed at him and staggered off.
As far as her father knows, no one has seen her since. But as he tells Active, Grace’s mother is now terminally ill with liver cancer and wants to see her daughter one more time.
Active is immediately struck by Grace’s beauty, but admits to Palmer that there’s not a whole lot he can do from his posting in the remote village other than make a few inquiries with friends in the city. But as fate would have it (this being a detective novel, after all), Active is soon thereafter sent to Anchorage for computer training.
There he hooks up with an old pal named Dennis Johnson who works for the Anchorage Police Department, and the two spend their off time visiting the city’s clubs, strip joints, and bingo parlors, following a vague line of clues that growingly indicate Grace was the as-yet unidentified victim of a fatal accident a couple of winters previous.
Grace had been arrested a handful of times during her days on the street, and one name that keeps popping up alongside hers in the records is another periodically homeless woman named Angie Ramos. A check on state records reveals Ramos to be living in Dutch Harbor and working in a cannery. So Active hops a flight down to meet with her and possibly figure out what has become of Grace.
From here the story takes its first significant plot twist, and if I revealed that I’d be giving too much away. Suffice to say that it’s well worth your time to pick up the book and find out where it heads, because the plot and the characters work nicely together to bring it to its unexpected end.
Jones’ main character, Nathan Active, is, as mentioned above, half Native. His mother was a Chukchi wild child who had him at a young age and gave him up for adoption to a married couple of teachers who soon thereafter moved him to Anchorage. Now back in Chukchi, he carries on an uneasy relationship with his real mother and his Native heritage. His long-term plan is to return to Anchorage, but he really isn’t that close to his adoptive parents either. He also has a rocky relationship with a local girlfriend, Lucy Generous, that grows increasingly strained as his obsession with uncovering the fate of Grace Palmer begins consuming him.
Active is a good character, and well defined, though for my tastes a bit too much of a goody-two-shoes. He’s a likeable lead, but it would be nice to see him given a bit more of a dark side in future installments. He’s conflicted, which is important in detective novels, but the best characters in this genre are the ones who have sinned badly themselves. It gives them a twisted commonality with the criminals they pursue. However, considering that Active is a trooper in good standing, I suppose there’s only so much Jones can let him get away with.
What Jones truly excels at is evoking Alaska. Whether it be the brief, fragile arctic spring, the hazardous world of the dead enders on the streets of Anchorage, or the relentless rain of Dutch Harbor, readers will get a strong sense of what Alaska feels like.
Early on, Jones offers this dead-on description of spring breakup: “The vanishing snow drifts were disclosing a winter’s worth of dog droppings, caribou bones, discarded trash bags, lost mittens, cigarette packs, and crumpled beer cans. He (Active) passed two ravens at work on the rear half of a tortoiseshell cat, the head and forelegs still frozen into a rotting snow bank.” Ah, the beauty of the Alaska we all know and love.
Elsewhere Jones sidetracks into a funny scene involving a Dutch Harbor limo driver, an excessively seedy bar, and a couple of violently drunk fishermen that, in many Alaskan towns, would be an all but everyday event.
“Frozen Sun” isn’t the Great Alaskan Novel, but it doesn’t try to be. It is, however, a very good story. Jones has an easygoing writing style that flows well, an ability to create believable, multi-layered characters, and plenty of good plot ideas. Having read this one, I’m ready to go back and read the previous two. If they’re as good as this one, I won’t be disappointed.
David James, Sunday, November 30, 2008, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner