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by Stan Jones and Patricia Watts
Soho, December 2018
242 pages
ISBN: 1641290021

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At first glance, the pieces of a small plane scattered against a rugged mountainside and the bright orange hat Evie Kavoonah always wore when she flew suggest there was a terrible but uncomplicated accident that killed the pilot and her fiancé. Even an experienced pilot can overlook something, and when federal investigators finally reach the scene they conclude she simply ran out of gas, a tragic outcome of a happy trip to Fairbanks by a couple who were on their way to pick out an engagement ring.

But Cowboy Decker, who trained Evie as a pilot, is convinced someone deliberately sabotaged the plane. He's so persistent he convinces Chukchi police chief, Nathan Active, to spend some of his vacation time examining the site, and what they find makes him suspicious. Meanwhile, there are other crimes to investigate on his beat, including a suicide that might not be a suicide and a suspect who has decided to turn the tables and become a detective herself.

Active's home life has its complications, too. His adolescent adopted daughter is getting into trouble at school and his wife has just discovered she's pregnant – and she's not sure what to do about it. She's still suffering from a childhood of vicious sexual abuse and is conflicted about motherhood. Active has his own history to cope with, having been adopted out to white parents when his mother was unable to care for him but now wants to have a family relationship. Though this is the sixth installment in a series, newcomers are given enough information to understand the personal relationships and the complex social life of a town in a part of the world that some call the "Big Empty."

The authors' narrative style is straightforward, yet they are able to work into the storyline touches that help readers visualize a remote and harsh part of the world and to learn something about the challenges faced by people who live at the intersection of Inupiat and white settler culture. A helpful glossary of Inupiaq words and an explanation of the multiple meanings of "Eskimo" help readers enjoy the multilingual moments in the dialogue. For those who read for plot, there's plenty to keep their interest, including an ingenious murder method. Altogether, the latest installment of this series does a good job of spinning a mystery in an interesting setting with a understated style that explores but avoids exoticizing the Inupiat community it depicts.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, November 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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