Friday, January 13, 2017

Book Review: Ice and Bone by Monte Francis

Meaning is found in understanding the un-understandable. Amid daily reports of the worst events in our society, we may feel tempted to just tune out. But now and again it is useful to venture deep into a story. Deep enough that it takes a thread of violence in all of its revolting detail, and instead of leaving the sensational facts to rot before our eyes, goes further, behind the cold facts to the passion, the heartbreak, and the brutal tragedy from its inception in the dark mind of a tortured soul. Ice and Bone (Wildblue press, Denver, 2016, $16.99 Paperback) is such a story. 

Monte Francis, also the author of By Their Father’s Hand: The True Story of the Wesson Family Massacre (Harper, 2007) and numerous radio and television stories, is not merely a hard-boiled journalist wielding facts. He knows how to tell a story. His research and interviews were extensive in preparation for this book, including interviews with victim families and friends, associates and family of the serial killer Josh Wade, FBI and police investigators, attorneys, and even correspondence with Wade himself. Francis weaves all of this information into a chronologically coherent and riveting tale.

The first two parts of the book outline the two murders for which Josh Wade was tried. In the first, Della Brown, an Alaskan Native, intoxicated, was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered. The details are gruesome. The killer bragged about the acts, saying they were motivated by his hatred of Natives. Despite this, prosecutors could not get a conviction of Wade of any crime except tampering with evidence. In Part Two, two years after his release, Wade kills and possibly assaulted sexually a white woman, petite psychiatric nurse Mindy Schloss. Francis outlines the series of events leading to Wade’s capture and conviction for the murder of Schloss, and how this eventually brought closure in the case of Della Brown.

Several murders of Native Alaskan women remain unsolved, some of which are attributed to Wade by the FBI. He admitted to murdering three men after he was sentenced to life in prison. The author also introduces speculation that there may be other murders, even dating back to Wade’s teenage years.

Certainly it is important that this story be told from the point of view of the victims, their families, and the community that was affected by the killer for many years. But Francis skillfully brings out a larger issue without ever addressing it directly. By the time Wade committed the murders described in Ice and Bone, he had been in mental institutions several times. He had been incarcerated and released. He had dealt in drugs and abused children. In spite of the terrible guilt of this man, society shares in it. Perhaps these crimes could not have been prevented. But being able to read a book such as Ice and Bone stimulates thought about the nature of abuse and mental illness, and our common responsibility to find ways to address them.  Now and again, we should do just that.