Grace, still wary of men, is hesitant about a full physical relationship with Active. He is prepared to be patient.
As Active explores the edge of the lake Active is startled to come upon a body in the water. No visual identification is possible as the face has been eaten way by pike in the lake. In a play on the name of the lake they call the dead man “No Way” and send out a signal for Decker to return.
Their camping getaway is abruptly ended when Cowboy returns, not for the body, but to pick up Active and Grace as there has been a major fire in the Rec Centre in Chukchi and 7-8 residents have been killed including the local Police Chief, Jim Silver.
The fire investigator from Anchorage is still sifting through the remains of the Rec Centre when Active gets back to Chukchi. The investigator has not been able to find a clear cause for the deadly fire. He suspects arson but it was an older building.
With the Chief dead the State Troopers take over the overall investigation. All are shaken by the possibility that someone in their small community would commit mass murder.
There is little evidence for the Troopers. The fire was intense. It took place during the night. No one saw anything unusual.
They look for persons with a grudge against any of the deceased. In particular, was someone out to get revenge on Silver. There are certainly grievances but none are so serious as to incite murder.
The frustration of the community with the lack of progress rises daily.
Active loves Grace but she continues to hesitate. She is still scarred from her abusive upbringing and self-destructive years in Anchorage. She resides in her family home as she deals with the memories of her father.
After seeing Grace and Active together, Pauline Generous, the grandmother of his former girlfriend Lucy, with the directness of a senior leaves Active stumbling for words when she asks Active:
“You gonna make her sad too, like with Lucy?”
Active wants to move ahead within the Troopers and is advised he can expect a transfer to Anchorage. The reaction of his mother, Martha Active Johnson, when he tells her is poignant:
“No, You can’t go …….. You can’t go away again,” she said. “It’s bad when I let them take you when you’re baby, it’s bad when you come visit me when you’re little boy, and ….. no, you can’t go again.”
Grace is not sure whether she wants to go back to Anchorage.
Returning to the investigation, the illegal trade in polar bear gall bladders becomes a factor. (Koreans use the gall bladders in traditional medicine and they are worth thousands of dollars.)
The investigation winds its way through the life of a community straddling traditional Inupiat life on the land and ocean with new residents from distant places and a contemporary lifestyle.
The plot made me realize how close Siberia is to northwest Alaska. They are but 90 km apart at their closest.
Village of the Ghost Bears is another great Alaska story by Jones. I appreciate an author who can integrate local people and geography and history into the plot. I think it is the best book in the series. Whenever I want to go visit the locale of a book I know I have a good book in my hands.
My sole regret is that the ending had one twist too many. Jones had come up with a credible solution when he added a further twist. As with some Jeffery Deaver books it was unnecessary and reduced the impact of the solution.
Jones has developed a fine series on the northwest edge of America.
****Jones, Stan – (2009) - White Sky, Black Ice; (2010) - Shaman Pass; (2012) - "J" is for Stan Jones; (2013) - Frozen Sun; (2013) - Q & A with Stan Jones on Nathan Active and Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte - Part I and Part II