Former Sitka Police Cheif Sheldon Schmitt debuts Chief Snow in his book “Bush Blues.” (Courtesy photo)

Former Sitka Police Cheif Sheldon Schmitt debuts Chief Snow in his book “Bush Blues.” (Courtesy photo)

Book Review: Retired Sitka police chief debuts cop character in ‘Bush Blues’

Real-life experience infuses pulpy novel with charm

“Bush Blues” is an introduction to the Alaska bush’s own Mike Hammer.

Like the famously hard-boiled Mickey Spillane detective, Chief Snow, who is at the center of retired Sitka Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt’s novel, is a quick-on-his-feet lawman who has no qualms about bending rules to make sure justice is meted out.

Usually, that means leniency with drunken small-time crimes in Togiak, Alaska, rather than extrajudicial punishment.

If you have a soft spot for pulpy crime stories, “Bush Blues” offers plenty of pleasures.

A prologue that starts in the middle of an in-progress fight for life sets the stakes for the ensuing pages, it’s clear that there’s a man who is mostly good, a man who is all bad, and they’re going to find themselves in violent conflict.

“The one advantage that bad guys had over other normal people was the willingness to kill without hesitation,” we’re told almost immediately.

However, it takes nearly half of the book’s 176 pages for the start of the mechanations that will bring that conflict to a head.

Still, the early meandering of the book is pleasant and eventful — there’s a plane crash, bear attack and the introduction of a simmering romantic plot.

Nearly a dozen colorful characters are also introduced, including multiple pilots, Alaska Natives, state troopers and a folklore figure who may or may not be real.

The characters have a tendency to spout John Wayne aphorisms, like, “We’re burning daylight,” but also are written as the exact sort of people who would be more than passingly familiar with The Duke’s movies.

The early going also allows the influence of Schmitt’s real-life, multi-decade career in law enforcement in Alaska and fondness for its people shine through.

“How can someone live out here so long and look down his nose at everyone?” thinks Chief Snow about a quarter of the way into the book.

When Chief Snow is glad he sprang for steel-toed boots because they’re well suited to kicking on doors when knocking is muffled by gloved hands it scans as a real-life observation.

Those nuggets of wisdom pop up frequently and add a level of interest to proceedings.

“Bush Blues” is not subtle, and some of the matter of fact ruminations on the realities of rape and sexual assault in western Alaska might be tough for some readers.

But at least the second half of the book his a briskly paced potboiler, and there is plenty of local color throughout to give it ample charm.

The blunt-force prose and sub-200-page length also mean it’s an enjoyable breeze to read.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


More in Home

Bartlett Regional Hospital’s crisis stabilization center during its unveiling on June 14, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital shuts down programs at recently opened Aurora Behavioral Health Center

Crisis stabalization program halted at center due to lack of funds and staff, officials say.

A car on Gastineau Avenue is partially buried by a mudslide that occurred during record rainfall on Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Photo by Simba Blackman)
New July rainfall record set for Juneau with a week to go; Suicide Basin nears 2023 fill level

No more heavy storms expected this month, according to forecaster.

The Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. Board of Trustees votes for a new chair and vice chair during a meeting in Fairbanks on Wednesday. (Screenshot from APFC livestream)
Ellie Rubenstein resigns from Permanent Fund board, Ethan Schutt displaced as chair in wake of email allegations

Trustees elect new chair, vice chair Wednesday morning; Rubenstein announces resignation hours later

Police and other emergency officials treat Steven Kissack after he was shot on Front Street on Monday, July 15, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Names of officers involved in death of Steven Kissack released, along with more details of standoff

JPD states Kissack threatened to kill officers; one officer who fired gun cleared in 2016 shooting.

People arrive for a service at Resurrection Lutheran Church on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Lawsuit: Resurrection Lutheran Church leaders have been ousted, clarity in ‘ministerial work’ needed

Pastor Karen Perkins, two others targeted in long-brewing feud at church known for helping homeless.

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, speaks on Jan. 4, 2024, at a town hall meeting on the possible Albertsons-Kroger grocery merger. The meeting was held at the Teamsters Local 959 headquarters in Anchorage. Peltola said on Tuesday she has not decided whether to support her party’s likely candidate, Vice President Kamala Harris. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Rep. Mary Peltola withholds support for Kamala Harris, is ‘keeping an open mind’

Congresswoman says she’s considering Harris presidency’s affect on Alaska as an oil-dependent state.

Michele Stuart Morgan (right), a Juneau Board of Education candidate, signs a qualifying petition for Jeff Redmond (center), who is also seeking one of three school board seats in the Oct. 1 municipal election, just before Monday’s filing deadline at City Hall. At left, Deputy Municipal Clerk Diane Cathcart processes last-minute paperwork filed by candidates. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Here’s the candidates certified for the Oct. 1 municipal election ballot as the filing deadline passes

Two running for mayor, seven for two Assembly seats, six for three school board seats.

A U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Sitka helicopter hovers over Sitka Sound during routine hoist training on April 25, 2023. (Lt. Cmdr. Wryan Webb/U.S. Coast Guard)
Coast Guard calls off search for trio who went missing flying from Juneau to Yakutat

Haines pilot Samuel Wright, Yakutat residents Hans Munich and Tanya Hutchins were on plane.

Juneau Municipal Attorney Robert Palmer reacts to praise for his service from Assembly members after his resignation was announced during a May 13 meeting. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Three city attorney finalists to be interviewed in public sessions this week by Juneau Assembly

Two Juneau residents with CBJ experience and D.C.-based Army attorney seek to replace Robert Palmer.

Most Read