From Ice to Ashes
Reviewed: June 29, 2010
By: Jessica Simon
Publisher: NeWest Press
257 pages, $19.95
There are several plot threads woven into the warp and weft of Jessica Simon’s
first published mystery novel, From Ice to Ashes. Her central character, Markus
Fanger, is one of the Yukon’s many German immigrants, whose past employment
with the Kriminalpolizei Hannover has made him an excellent candidate as an
RCMP auxiliary member.
In this capacity he has become involved in the rehabilitation of young Donjek
Stoneman, a native boy who has managed to get himself into a fair amount of
trouble with the law, much to the disappointment of his family, whose history
with the force goes back several generations.
During a sentencing circle held in Dawson City, Fanger offers to take the young
man under his wing and have him do some useful community service to pay his
debt to society. In this case, he wants to use him as a race official during
the latest running of the Yukon Arctic Ultra Race, which, in this particular
year, is being run from Dawson using the route made for the annual Trek Over
the Top snowmobile event.
Fanger and Stoneman will be manning the 100 K finish line at the Little Gold
Customs Station. Donny is a kid with a chip the size of a 2 x 4 on his shoulder
and thinks of Fanger as a “wannabe Indian”, but he has the skills
needed to do this job and he knows it will keep him out of the prison system.
Details about the race and race relations (both types) are one part of this
The other part is what really makes it more of a thriller than a mystery. It
concerns a plot to blow up the missiles at Fort Greely in Alaska, a plot hatched
and carried out by a Moroccan Islamist terrorist on a mission of personal vengeance.
While he is probably more motivated by his personal history, Omar Ahmed has
convinced himself he is on a mission from Allah, has trained and has prepared
himself to run the Ultra for the sole purpose of gaining entry to Alaska and
transporting a load of explosives to Greely, where he has an accomplice who
will enable him to carry out his mission.
Annabeth Secord is a very disturbed young woman who has already abandoned a
marriage and a daughter in the Yukon for one love affair in Alaska. Seduced
by Ahmed, who claims he can help her regain custody of her daughter, Annabeth,
an electrician working at Greely, has willingly agreed to provide the technical
expertise needed to make Ahmed’s plot work.
The story is told from several points of view. We follow Fanger as he works
the race and works on Donny. We follow Ahmed as he runs the race and collects
the materiel he has stolen and cached along the route. We follow what seems,
at first, to be a totally unconnected RCMP investigation of an explosives theft
There are scenes from the race itself, a mad snow machine chase across and beside
the Top of the World Highway, and some tense scenes at Fort Greely towards the
end of the book. Simon is at her best when dealing with the outdoor aspect of
this novel, as befits someone who has spent time as a wilderness guide, among
her many career options during her more than twenty years in the territory.
From Ice to Ashes was nominated, along with a slew of other novels, in the 2010
best first novel category of the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award.
This is named for the pseudonym under which the official public executioner
in Canada used to make his rounds. The actual award statue is a wooden model
of a hanging man. The arms and legs move when the model’s string is pulled.
Simon got an Advanced Artists Travel Grant to help her attend the Bloody Words
Convention in Toronto in late May, where she served on a panel called Where
the Wild Things Are and did public readings at three Toronto area bookstores
that promote mysteries.
She didn’t win the award, but she was in good company for half the week
and the book was definitely noticed.
There are more Fanger books coming, and Simon says they’re not appearing
in chronological order. Her computer is currently gestating manuscripts for
Adventures of a Talking Stick and Adventure Whitewater, which will actually
be the third and first of Fanger’s adventures when they get into print.
These, she says, will be less like thrillers and more like mysteries, and will
present with a lot more of Fanger’s personal history.