By Sue Henry
Published by Avon
June 2003; 0380978830; 273 pages
"I wasn't here then," he reminded her. "So now that it's all over, will you please explain to me just what you were doing by yourself in that dog yard at Nancy Lake."
Jessie Arnold frowned at the trooper's question, narrowed her gray eyes, and a curl of honey-blond hair fell over her forehead as she shook her head, remembering. As all eyes turned toward her, she shifted a bit self-consciously in her place on the big sofa that had been a housewarming gift for her new cabin. She glanced around the group of people that had gathered for dinner and now sat companionably in her living room, drinking coffee or beer and discussing the circumstances in which they had all, in one way or another, found themselves involved in the preceding few days.
Two were finishing a second slice of pie, and one had lit an aromatic pipe, adding a faint fruity scent to the pleasant smell of the fire in the potbellied iron stove. The fire crackled suddenly in the ensuing silence, which was broken again as Alaska State Trooper Phil Becker set his bottle of Killian's on its stone hearth with a clink. Crossing his arms on the back of the straight chair he straddled, he rested his chin on them and looked across at Jessie, waiting to see what she would say and attempting, though not very hard, to hide the I-told-you-so grin that twitched his lips.
"Better answer the question," he suggested finally.
"Oh, cut it out, Phil," she told him, attempting to look severe and failing. "We all know you think I shouldn't have gone off on my own, and you're probably right. But I was worried and angry, and it seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to do at the time. How was I to know ... " She let the sentence trail off thoughtfully.
He shrugged, waiting for her to finish her defensive justification, but quit trying to control the grin and allowed it to spread across his face.
"I was looking for Tank," she began, turning to her questioner and ignoring Phil's expression.
At the sound of his name, Jessie's lead dog, Tank, sat up from where he was curled next to young Danny Tabor on the braided rug at her feet, all his attention focused on her face. She leaned forward and took the dog's face between both her hands and smiled as she spoke to him.
"Yes, I was looking for you. And found you, thank God, though it got us both into a lot of trouble."
He leaned blissfully into her caresses and gave her arm a lick, returning the affection.
"Lie down, good boy," she told him, and waited to continue her explanation till he had done so and laid his muzzle on Danny's knee.
"First, Maxie McNabb stopped by on her way to Colorado and -- "
"Who's Maxie McNabb?" Danny asked.
Jessie sighed. Explaining everything that had happened was obviously not going to be easy.
"Maxie is a friend of mine who lives in Homer, but she travels to warmer places in her motor home during the winter. I met her when I drove a Winnebago up the Alaska Highway last May for Vic Prentice, the contractor who built this new cabin for me. She was coming back to Homer for the summer, and we ran into each other in a Canadian campground. We kept in touch, then in August she stopped here for a visit she had promised me on her way back to the Lower Forty-eight. It was a short visit, but our conversation gave me the idea of searching local dog yards, so that's where I went.
"I had gone to the fair, you see ... " she continued, remembering what had transpired on her visit to one particular and unpleasant dog yard, and the situation in which she had found herself as a result.
The grin faded from Phil Becker's face. He listened intently, along with the circle of old and new friends who made up Jessie's audience, for there were details of what had happened that he had not yet heard and a few questions of his own to be answered.
Except for her voice and some gentle Celtic harp music from her sound system in the background, it was quiet in the room as the story began to unfold. Remembering how events had occurred, Jessie began to take herself back to that particular day and where she had found herself -- and Tank.
No author on the crime fiction scene brings the beauty, mystery, majesty, and danger of the Alaskan frontier more vibrantly alive than critically acclaimed award winner Sue Henry. Now she takes us due north once more to this rugged land that famed "musher" and sometime sleuth Jessie Arnold calls home -- a breathtaking world where the summers are brief and winters, like death, are cold and long.
With August drawing to a close, Jessie Arnold is feeling empty. Not even the return of a friend can lessen her disappointment over having to miss the approaching Alaskan dogsled racing season because of her recent knee surgery. But a request to help man the Iditarod booth at the Alaska State Fair is a godsend, something that keeps Jessie involved and happy . . . until a corpse turns up on the fairgrounds.
The murder is an especially brutal one: a small-time hoodlum dispatched by a double-blade axe blow to the skull. Though she has already seen too much death in her lifetime, Jessie becomes a participant in the proceedings when her beloved lead sled dog, Tank, vanishes. Angry and sick with worry, she sets out to find him and unwittingly discovers connections that link Tank's disappearance to the murder and a recent theft in bizarre and disturbing ways.
Friends new and old are soon involved as well. Musher Lynn Ehlers, the parents of a local boy, and state troopers are plunged into a desperate and harrowing search that leads them across lush forested valleys, up silent, forbidding mountains, and into Alaska's darkest heart. Because, suddenly, a sled dog is not the only missing player in this drama. Under alarming circumstances, Jessie Arnold has also vanished.(back to top)
Sue Henry, whose award-winning Alaska mysteries have received the highest praise from readers and critics alike, has lived in Alaska for almost a quarter of a century, and brings history, Alaskan lore, and the majestic beauty of the vast landscape to her mysteries. Based in Anchorage, where she teaches writing at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.