Welcome to the official web site of mystery author Stan Jones!
White Sky, Black Ice
Audio review (2:15), from AK, a program of the Alaska Public Radio Network. Used with permission of APRN.
New York Times Review of Books
Two pages into Stan Jones's WHITE SKY, BLACK ICE, you can feel the bite of the west wind that comes screaming across the Alaska tundra and sense the isolation of the Inupiat Eskimos who live in this desolate part of the far north. Nathan Active, the state trooper who brings much of the warmth to this stark debut novel, has kept his distance from Chukchi, the miserable little town where he was born and from which he thought he'd escaped when he was adopted by a white family in Anchorage. But a job reassignment drags Nathan (a nalauqmiiyaaq, or half-breed, to his old neighbors) back to face a rash of suicides and hints of trouble at the copper mine that has brought hope to the hard-luck community. The crimes that come to light are nasty, but nowhere near as interesting as the cycles of life in this fierce climate, or as appealing as the Inupiat characters who speak in a ''stripped-down village English'' that after a while starts to make real sense to Nathan.
Wall Street Journal
Stan Jones’s “White Sky, Black Ice” marks the promising fiction debut of Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active, who labors in the remote town of Chukchi, where he suffers the icy west wind’s toothache—like persis-tence” and hopes for a transfer soon to An-chorage. Born an Inupiat Eskimo but raised by white adoptive parents, Active is a child of two cultures—or, as he complains to his birth mother, “Now I don’t know what I am.”
Nor does Trooper Active know what to make of the seemingly unrelated suicides of two allegedly untroubled Inupiats. “Look, it’s a city case,” says Active’s boss. “Don’t complicate it, huh?” But Nathan can’t ignore two suicides in one week:
“That’s kinda weird, even for Chukchi.” His sleuthing uncovers fishy doings at the town’s big copper mine and unseemly deal-ings between a local activist and the mine’s upper management.
“White Sky, Black Ice” puts its exotic tundra to excellent use. And Trooper Ac-tive proves such an interesting and likable guide that the selfish reader can’t but hope Nathan won’t get that Anchorage transfer for at least a few more books.
Fans of mysteries involving indigenous cultures and exotic locations will want to check out "White Sky, Black Ice," which takes place in the remote Alaskan village of Chuckchi and features the debut of a dogged Inupiat state trooper. When Nathan Active is asked to put the finishing touches on a perfunctory investigation into the apparent suicides of two employees of the Gray Wolf mines, he goes against the common wisdom and begins asking tough questions. He knows that Eskimos of the region take their own lives at a rate much higher than other residents of the state, but he isn't willing to accept that both of these men would choose to shoot themselves in the throat.
As Active digs deeper into the deaths, he discovers a conspiracy as thick as the winter ice at the Arctic Circle. No one will be surprised by the direction Stan Jones takes as he unravels the plot, but what will keep readers enthralled are cinematic descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness and an unvarnished portrayal of life among the Inupiat -- especially the crushing effects of alcohol and poverty on the culture. It's a harsh existence, but one that Jones infuses with warmth, humanity and not a little magic. I can't wait for Nathan Active's next adventure.
January Online Magazine
Karen G. Anderson
Everything about Stan Jones' first detective novel, White Sky, Black Ice, is deceptively simple. The monosyllables of the title understate two of the most confounding phenomena of the Arctic North: White sky, blinding and dangerous to the unwary who venture forth under conditions in which a horizon can be invisible. Black ice, treacherous to cross.
Jones sets his mystery in rural Alaska, where perception is hampered and where judgment is difficult, be it geographic or moral. The best guides, the Inupiat (the Native term preferred to "Eskimo"), are often beset by liquor and poverty. The harsh environment leaves visitors from warmer climes ignorant and vulnerable.
The hard-bitten town of Chukchi, in the remote northwest corner of Alaska, is a place where people's needs are basic: shelter and food. Temptations are simple: alcohol, drugs, sex, money, and power. Keeping the peace is desirable; justice, a luxury. Murder can easily be disguised as an accident or suicide, and crime is simple to cover up or ignore.
Rookie Alaska state trooper Nathan Active seems no match for the denizens, or the weather, of Chukchi. A nice suburban boy reared in Anchorage, Active is hoping to tough out his assignment in this frigid backwater so he can win a promotion to Anchorage headquarters. His frustration with the brutal weather and the sordid bar scene in Chukchi is understandable, but ironic -- because he was born there. His teenage Inupiat mother, at the time more interested in partying and sleeping around than in taking care of an unplanned baby, had given him up for adoption to a Caucasian couple who taught at the local high school.
But don't think for a moment that this book wastes any time with sociological musings. By the time we meet her, Nathan's mother, Martha Active Johnson, has long since gotten her life together. She's married to an electronics technician from the nearby Air Force radar base and teaches in the local school system. She takes a strong interest in her half-Eskimo son -- and angers him when she advises him against dating Lucy Generous, a beautiful Inupiat woman who works as the local police dispatcher.
"You should look for a girl like you," Martha tells her son. "Smart, went to college, good job. Village girl will never do anything but have babies, play bingo, and get fat."
Active is a young, and not particularly cerebral, sleuth. He sports a buzz cut, reads Wired magazine, subsists on frozen Mexican dinners, and has the attitude of 20-somethings who are more likely to obsess about what they don't like than what they aspire to. What Active doesn't like is loose ends in his police work -- and he begins tripping over a lot of them when two local Inupiat are shot dead. The Caucasian city cops dismiss both deaths as alcohol-related suicides, all too common in the town. But Active's local contacts -- one, a savvy dope dealer, Kinnuk Wilson, the other, his mom's cousin Clara Stone -- insist that there's something wrong about the two supposed suicides. The first man, strapping young George Clinton, was about to marry his attractive girlfriend; the second, Aaron Stone -- Clara's husband -- was a respected elder with a good home life. Two empty whiskey bottles were found in Stone's hunting cabin, but his wife insists that he didn't drink. A common thread joins the two men -- both worked at the nearby Gray Wolf copper mine, an operation run by the GeoNord company on leased Native land.
As Active's investigation unfolds and leads him toward the Gray Wolf mine, Jones shows us places few of us can imagine: hunting cabins reachable only by snowmobile; Inupiat homes where kids play Nintendo while adults dine on delicacies such as muktuk (whale hide with the fat still on it); bleak apartments where permanently frozen sewer lines mean showering at the local gym, or not at all. Nothing is romanticized:
There were many things [Active] had come to detest about Chukchi since the troopers had posted him there eighteen months before. But it was probably the west wind he detested most.
It was the west wind's toothache-like persistence. God help you if you had to go gloveless in it, changing spark plugs on the Suburban or working an evidence camera. It gnawed at your hands and sprayed grit in your eyes. Inside a house at night you could hear it scratching bushes and weeds against the wall. You could feel it suck warm air out the cracks around the windows and push cold air under the door and through the electric sockets.
Jones' keen portrayal of Chukchi should shame the many established crime-fiction authors who, now that indigenous cultures are trendy, have taken to sprinkling shamans and tribal curses into their fiction like Hamburger Helper onto ground round. There is no substitute for deep knowledge of people and place.
Nathan Active is as honest a character as Chukchi is a setting. Low-key and patient, this young nalauqmiiyaaq (a pejorative term for someone of Inupiat blood who is a half-breed, or "almost a white man") seems to be learning about himself at the same time as he is uncovering the truth behind the recent Native deaths. Pitted against some powerful adversaries, including corrupt state officials and an ostentatiously well-heeled attorney GeoNord has brought in from San Francisco to protect someone from Active's investigation, Active turns out to be both shrewd and daring. He has more difficulty dealing with the obstacles posed by the agendas of his Inupiat friends, the ambitious tribal leader Tom Werner and Lucy Generous. Along with him, we wonder: How far would Werner go to protect the Inupiat financial interests? Is Lucy really falling in love with Active, or does she see the handsome trooper as her ticket out of Chukchi?
Jones, born in Alaska, has spent most of his career as a radio and newspaper reporter and editor there, winning major regional and national journalism awards. White Snow, Black Ice suggests that he is likely to enjoy at least as much success in the field of crime fiction.
Jones is, of course, treading in the venerable footsteps of Australian crime-fiction master Arthur Upfield, who more than 70 years ago created the half-aborigine Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. Jones' writing, like Upfield's, is blunt, vital, passionate, and contemporary. His detective, like Boney, investigates not just crime, but cultures, and his own bicultural identity. A harsh environment such as the Australian outback or the Alaskan wilderness strips people, and stories, down to their bare essentials; in the hands of a fine writer like Jones, it also burnishes them to great beauty. I look forward to many more books about the investigations of Nathan Active.
Dallas Morning News
Though Nathan Active was born to a young Inupiat girl, he was adopted by an Anchorage couple. Now a college graduate and state trooper, he's been posted to the village of his birth, where he finds himself odd man out, forced to face his native heritage, deal with it and (he hopes) put it behind him as he hotfoots it back to the city.
His first big case pits him against native traditions, including a shaman's curse and a series of family suicides. Only by accepting the fact that he's ignorant of his own heritage and needs help can he start unraveling the mystery.
With aid from a new friend, Lucy Generous, Nathan begins to understand not only the deaths but the deeper questions of his own background.
With the patience of a hunter waiting beside a seal's breathing hole in the ice, Nathan pursues the truth, and in the process learns of the pain his people have suffered from contact with the white man. Suicides are common, as is alcoholism, and the only jobs are at a copper mine that may be causing more problems than it solves. The conflicts between economics and tradition create tensions in the native community that are difficult to resolve.
Set against the once-pristine Alaskan wilderness, Mr. Jones' first novel is fast-moving and logical. In Nathan Active, Mr. Jones has produced a complex, intelligent detective often at odds with his community but coming to understand and even love it.
White sky ("a high film of opalescent cloud... that leached all contour and distinction from the snowy landscape") and black ice ("black and perfect like ice when it was new and thin and deadly") are two aspects of the physical life in the remote Alaskan village of Chukchi, where young and ambitious state trooper Nathan Active is starting his police career. Nathan has decidedly mixed feelings about Chukchi, despite its often stunning beauty. He was born here to a 15-year-old Eskimo girl, who quickly fostered him off to a white family in Anchorage. Also, within its boundaries it contains all the problems facing native Alaskans. Entrapped by poverty and alcohol, too many of them end their lives with suicide. Even an enterprising local leader, Tom Werner, who has fought to ban alcohol and to keep a nearby copper mine open to provide jobs, can't stop two more men from killing themselves in the book's first few pages.
But to Nathan, with his outsider's sensibilities, these last two suicides look suspicious. Even though his politically disgraced superior and the local police warn him off, he stubbornly digs into the circumstances of the deaths and finds connections to the international consortium that owns the Gray Wolf copper mine.
Nathan is a fascinating character, bristling with anger against his birth mother for abandoning him, but still drawn to her and the native life. His feelings about a determined young woman called Lucy Generous are equally ambivalent: part of him loves her sexual frankness, while the other part warns him that a native wife might not help his career.
Stan Jones, an environmentalist, journalist, and bush pilot, obviously knows and loves the people and territory he writes so well about in this, his first mystery.
Anchorage Daily News
"White Sky, Black Ice" is a mystery I enjoyed reading twice. Stan Jones, who lived in Kotzebue six years, uses his familiarity with Inupiat culture to make a fictional Northwest Alaskan village three-dimensional.
The bipolar world of the Alaska Inupiat is shown through the novel's protagonist, Nathan Active. Active, the son of a 15-year-old Inupiat girl, was adopted by white parents and raised in Anchorage. He joins the Alaska State Troopers and is posted to his birth village, Chukchi. The villagers call him nalauqmiiyaak (almost white), since he knows so little of his culture or language.
Initially, Active wants a transfer out of Chukchi, especially because of its "west wind's toothachelike persistence." His view evolves as he meets the villagers and even eats muktuk with his aaka (mother) without cutting off his nose (read the book to find out how). He also begins to appreciate the beauty of the arctic landscape. "While the mountains along the Katonak tended to be bare jagged crags, the summits along the Isignaq were rounded, with more spruce on the lower slopes and even stands of birch and poplar in the riverbottom. The valley opened out before them, a white embrace."
The story begins with the apparent suicide of a young Native man who worked at a nearby copper mine. A snitch who drinks and sells marijuana tells Active about a shaman curse on the dead man's family. However, when another Inupiat employee of the copper mine dies from a similar gunshot wound, Active decides to investigate whether they were murdered.
Jones, a former reporter and editor for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and Anchorage Daily News, revises stories of Alaska politics to draft his engaging plot. The copper mine, on Native land, is run by an international mining company committed to local hire. After the company's high-priced lawyer tries to sandbag the murder investigation, Active learns that some villagers and a fired state biologist worry that the mine's operations may be killing fish.
Active uncovers some refreshing characters. He interviews a crazy old woman who keeps her tent immaculate, a copper mine executive who hunts for trophy caribou and a savvy Native business leader who also organized the initiative to ban liquor in the village. Lucy Generous, in her seductive blue robe, only occasionally distracts the ambitious detective along the way.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
His mother is Inupiat, but Nathan Active is considered to be "nalauqmiiyaaq," which translates roughly into "almost a white man." It's not a compliment.
Two white school teachers raised Active in Anchorage after his 15-year-old mother gave him up for adoption. But after he graduated from the university, State Troopers posted the recruit back to his home village, where his birth mother still lives.
Everyone in Chukchi seems to know the trooper's history, but Active understands little of his heritage, hence the nickname.
Battling the community's alcoholism problems and a mean west wind, Active hopes for a speedy transfer back to Anchorage and to civilization.
Active makes his debut as the protagonist of Stan Jones' new murder mystery, which is set in a fictional village on the northwest coast.
The trooper is torn between his professional life and the charms of his dispatcher, one Lucy Generous. Described by one local as a Dudley Doright, Active tends to think of work first.
Two village suicides intrigue him. Both victims were shot in the Adam's apple by a rifle. Some of the villagers think a shaman's curse may be responsible for at least one of the deaths.
Nathan suspects murder. A somewhat sinister multinational corporation, the town's largest employer, runs a copper mine north of the village. Corporation officials act as if they have something to hide. And then there are the mysterious fish kills in a creek near the mine.
This evocative mystery captures the mood and the landscape of northwest Alaska, which the author knows well. Jones lived in Kotzebue for several years, before reporting for the News-Miner and the Anchorage Daily News, where he also served as city editor. This is his first book and it's a great tale. His writing style has been compared to Tony Hillerman's.
Jones writes with humor and affection for the people and descriptively about the region, which he traveled as a pilot. He describes a tour through Chukchi's dirt streets and past unpainted houses.
"There weren't many houses, mostly just tundra pocked with rusting oil drums, dead snowmachines, and abandoned cars."
Nathan Active is a different sort of trooper. Pragmatic, he finds he can bend the rules and wheel and deal with the best of them. The trooper discovers that he must adapt to the rhythms of the community to work his case. He strikes a deal with an old Native woman for information he needs. He trades information for a ride to her bingo hall with the Suburban's hazard lights flashing.
Active comes to appreciate the villagers and their close-knit families and rekindles a relationship with his birth mother.
Besides being a compelling story, "White Sky, Black Ice" is a knowing portrait of a community that is battling the influences of alcohol and trying to maintain traditional values.
North of everything where even Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak and Sue Henry’s Alex Jensen fear to tread Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active plies a slow but steady trade in law enforcement in his hated native village of Chukchi Lately, a pair of suicides has made life more interesting for Nathan. Not many people shoot themselves in the throat with rifles, but both Gray Wolf miner George Clinton and mechanic Aaron Stone did — George in continuing fulfillment of a family curse that’s already carried off his two older brothers as suicides — unless Nathan wanes to believe a mean old drunk who informs him cryptically that George was really killed by “that qauqlik” (“the chief”), and the growing evidence that Gray Wolf, which has poured money into Chukchi and sharply cut domestic violence complaints in the village may not be the smiling Big Brother it appears. Working his way through a bleak, lovingly rendered northern landscape, his own divided feelings about police dispatcher Lucy Generous and a cast polarized by race, class, and their positions on hunting and liquor and the law, Nathan finally puts the pieces together though not in time to prevent a third suicide.
There’s never much mystery about what’s behind Chukchi’s troubles, but first-timer Jones, takes aim at his familiar targets, with zest and brings them down In a rousing finale, though one that seems as long as an Alaskan winter.
Tony Hillerman fans will feel right at home when they pick up this mystery, even though Jones’ story is set in Alaska and not in Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee’s home territory. Attractive, eligible Nathan Active, an Inupiat raised by white adoptive parents, has returned to his roots. His job as a state trooper has taken him back to Chukcki, the tiny village where he was born and where his birth mother still lives. Active’s dual heritage becomes both an asset and a disadvantage when he begins an in-vestigation of two suspiciously similar deaths. Local. superstition, local prejudices, and local politics all come into play as Active quietly and persistently works his way toward the surprising truth. Both culture (there’s an In-upiaq glossary) and climate are authentically portrayed in a winning debut that will leave readers looking forward to another encounter with the smart, compassionate trooper and the people of the small town he’s just now learning to call his home. —
The hero of Jones’s promising first novel is Nathan Active, an Alaska state trooper. He is an Inupiat, but was given away by his mother when he was a baby, and raised by a white couple in Anchorage. Now he knows little of his background, and feels torn between two Nathan’s bafflement hasn’t been helped by his work assignment in Chukchi, the town in the rural northwestern corner of Alaska where he was born and where his birth mother still lives. The Inupiat townsfolk there have welcomed the opening of the Gray Wolf copper mine, as it provides jobs for young people. The number of wife-beatings and liquor-related offenses has declined dramatically. But now two local men have died in the same week, each of a gunshot wound in the throat. Locals assume that the deaths were suicides, especially as one of the young men belonged to a family whose members are subject to a curse. Nathan is not convinced — even in suicide-prone Chukchi, men don’t usually shoot themselves in the Adams apple. While this tough, gritty mystery generates only modest suspense, its exotic set-tmg will hold readers throughout. Jones has a real knack for depicting the daily life of a small Inupiat community, and the toll that alcoholism has taken on it. (May)
Fans of authentic Alaskan mysteries will love this new series featuring state troop-er Nathan Active. A full-blooded Inupiat adopted by a white family and raised in Anchorage, he has been assigned to the remote village of Chukchi, where his formidable birth mother and a small host of other memorable characters are coping with a string of youthful suicides. People blame a family curse for the latest— though Active has his doubts—and the next falls totally outside the pattern. De-tails of speech, everyday life, and cultural beliefs permeate the narrative while Active’s position as a native raised by whites provides frequent humor. First-rate.