Musher Jessie Arnold and her fans get a break from sadistic monsters and the frozen wilderness in her tenth outing (Cold Company, 2002, etc.).
Henry’s latest tale begins in the cozy confines of Jessie’s new living room, where all the participants in this latest caper take turns telling the story. It all begins when a friend needs Jessie’s help for the Iditarod booth at the Alaska State Fair. Grateful for the break from the boredom of rehabilitating her knee, Jessie takes her lead dog Tank to the Fair, where, unbeknownst to them, other adventurers are converging. Elderly Frank Monroe has escaped to the Fair from the infantilizing discipline of his nursing home, and young Danny Tabor from familial chores. Danny meets Tank and a considerably less savory character who chases the boy when he accidentally makes off with the man’s gym bag. Luckily, Danny also meets Frank, who hides with him overnight in a Fair exhibit. The next morning, a man is found with an axe in his head and Tank is dognapped. Jessie and Tank survive their share of hardship before their rescue, but the State Troopers finally figure out the connection between the dog, the boy, the old man, the gym bag, and the axe murderer.
Readers may be charmed by the reassuring narrative frame, but it defuses much of the tension, as does the conventional precocity of Frank and Danny. Even so, some will stick around to see the real mystery resolved: Who’s the unnamed yet familiar man joining Jessie’s crowd of friends?