Saturday, August 20, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: To Protect and Serve

We're celebrating Native American Heritage Month here at Kittling: Books, and this week, the party is in honor of four authors who write books featuring Native American police officers in Canada and the United States.

If you're a fan of this sub-genre, feel free to chime in with your own personal favorites, and if you're new to this type of mystery, I hope I pique your interest enough to add a book or two to your wishlists. Let the celebration begin!

Stan Jones
Stan Jones has lived most of his life in Alaska, the setting of his books. He won several awards as an investigative journalist covering such stories as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and another series of articles that led to impeachment proceedings against one of Alaska's governors. It's obvious that he loves the Arctic landscape from reading his biography on his website:

"I spent a pleasant but basically aimless life until I moved to the Inupiat Eskimo village of Kotzebue in my late twenties.  I found the lovely, barren Arctic landscape absolutely mesmerizing, the extreme climate a joy, and the Native culture fascinating.  I landed Bush planes on the sea ice, drove snowmachines over the tundra, hunted moose and caribou, and once helped paddle a sealskin umiaq in pursuit of a bowhead whale on the Chukchi Sea off Point Hope."
His series of four books features Alaska State Trooper Nathan Active, an Inupiak, who's assigned to his village of birth after being raised by a white couple in Anchorage, Alaska. I love these books for their strong plots, interesting characters, fascinating native culture, and their incredible sense of place. The series: White Sky, Black Ice (1999), Shaman Pass (2003), Frozen Sun (2008), and Village of the Ghost Bear (2009).

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about White Sky, Black Ice:

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 worlds. 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 Adam's apple.

James D. Doss
Until his retirement, author James D. Doss worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Now he lives in Taos, New Mexico.

Doss's series features Ute police officer Charlie Moon in Grant Creek, Colorado. The series currently numbers sixteen (or it will in November when Coffin Man is published). The first four books are: The Shaman Sings (1994), The Shaman Laughs (1995), The Shaman's Bones (1997), and The Shaman's Game (1998).

Since Charlie Moon is only a minor character in The Shaman Sings, let's take a look at what Amazon says about The Shaman Laughs:

What Tony Hillerman has done for the Navajo tribes of the American Southwest, James Doss seems intent on pulling off for the Utes of Colorado--creating mysteries that are as unique and different as the people and the lands they inhabit. His second book about Ute policeman Charlie Moon is full of dark myth and modern murder, all about the means people invent to fill up the holes in their lives.

Stanley Evans
Stanley Evans is a writer, a surveyor, and a deep-sea fisherman. His series features Silas Seaweed, a Coast Salish beat cop on the streets of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Seaweed is known to get things done-- if not always by following police procedure.

The five books in the series are: Seaweed on the Street (2005), Seaweed on Ice (2006), Seaweed Under Water (2007), Seaweed on the Rocks (2008), and Seaweed in the Soup (2009).

Here's a brief synopsis of Seaweed on the Street:

The first in the series, Seaweed on the Street introduces a new character for mystery lovers: Coast Salish street cop Silas Seaweed. A billionaire's daughter with an unsavory past has mysteriously disappeared. Silas Seaweed, a savvy, street-smart investigator based in Victoria, B.C., is put on the case. His search for the young woman leads him on a trail of murder, greed and obsessive violence. Overcoming such obstacles as a pair of ruthless cocaine dealers, the murder of key witnesses and a failed attempt on his own life, Seaweed perseveres in his quest to bring a master criminal to justice, his journey taking him from the darker side of Victoria's downtown to Nevada's glittering casinos. Blends modern-day crime detection with age-old Coast Salish ritual.

Susan Slater
Susan Slater has lived in the Southwest for over thirty years and works for a government contractor.

Her three books-- The Pumpkin Seed Massacre (1999), Yellow Lies (2000), and Thunderbird (2002)-- feature Benson Pecos, a reservation medical investigator from Tewa Pueblo and Tommy Spottedhorse, a tribal police officer in New Mexico.

I have the first two books in the series sitting on my to-be-read shelves, and I hope it doesn't take me much longer to get to them!

Library Journal says this about The Pumpkin Seed Massacre:

Newcomer Slater successfully taps into the complex issues facing Native American communities in this dynamic mystery set primarily in one of New Mexico's Tewa Pueblos. Handsome Ben Pecos has straddled Anglo and Native cultures since the death of his mother, an alcoholic Tewa artist, spending summers with his grandmother at the pueblo and winters with adoptive parents in Utah. While considering graduate school, Ben accepts an internship at the Tewa Pueblo's medical clinic and is immediately drawn into a major medical disaster. A plague-like epidemic has begun spreading among New Mexico's residents and tourists, sending the nation into a fevered panic. As Ben is drawn into the orbit of the strange illness (presumably caused by tainted pumpkin seeds), he begins to fall for Julie Conlin, a local TV reporter. This is a wonderful book with loveable heroes.

You know-- every time I write one of these posts, I want to put down the book I'm currently reading and pick up one of the ones I've just talked about! I hope you feel the same way. Join me next week when I'll continue celebrating mysteries with Native American characters!


  1. Can Stan Jones see Russia from his house? Sorry, couldn't resist.

    I want to read the Ute series. My favorite author of all time, Hal Borland, knew many Utes and his widow gave me a candle holder made by them. I'll always treasure the gift, but I don't know much about the tribe. Time I learned.

  2. Barbara-- Amazing how much you can learn by reading mysteries, isn't it? And some snobs turn up their noses at the genre!

  3. Yes, every time I read about new temptations, I want to rush into them, but I have resisted for months, and I refuse to give in until I have sufficient shelf space.

  4. Dorte-- You are a very hard woman! ;-)


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