A man can have skookum. So can a place. It’s strength, a sort of mysterious power,” writes Jack Hart in his new novel, “Skookum Summer: A Novel of the Pacific Northwest.” The Chinook term also signifies “magic” or “spirit,” and clearly, for Hart, our Puget Sound Region oozes skookum. It has inspired Hart, a former managing editor and writing coach at The Oregonian, to write this exceptionally constructed and brilliantly rendered novel of the Pacific Northwest.

After a scandalous blunder at the L.A. Times, ambitious reporter Tom Dawson sheepishly returns to write for the local weekly in his tiny hometown of Bent Fir (a fictional logging village on the southwestern bank of the Sound, somewhere between Shelton and Olympia). Just as he’s adjusting to producing low-stakes journalism at the Big Skookum Echo, the calculated murder of a high-profile logger shakes the community. Tom throws himself into the investigation, which exposes the seedy underbelly of a small rural town, à la “Twin Peaks.”

Hart’s prose channels the punchy, rhythmic swagger of noir narration as we meet the inhabitants of “the dark world that lurks under the Skookum’s bright-green carpet of firs”: pockmarked meth addicts, long-haired hippie activists, hothead loggers and cagey sheriffs.

The dialogue captures country speech and feels authentic, and the locales are recognizable by any Northwesterner. There’s the Thriftway grocery store, the Takamak River and The Spar Tavern, for example, where we often find Tom “downing Rainier until alpenglow appears on the mountain of the same name.”

As Tom digs deeper, he finds himself in the crosshairs of the very bad actors he’s investigating.

“Skookum Summer” is a suspenseful and satisfying whodunit, but it is, simultaneously, the fully realized coming-of-age tale of a young man taking stock of himself for the first time. Tom must reconcile the appetite for professional glory and lavish living, which brought him to L.A. with the nobility of everyday people in Bent Fir.

Hart adds additional depth and complexity to the transformation, by exploring how place —and the concept of home — figures in a person’s inner journey. “You never get a place like this out of your system,” Tom hears. “It’s still your town.”

Dawson covers other smaller side stories for the Echo as the murder case unfolds, allowing Hart to explore a variety of larger social and environmental issues.

The time is 1981: Log rustlers are illegally cutting old-growth trees on the Olympic Peninsula, environmentalists are pressing for increased regulations, rural meth labs are burgeoning and industrial livestock operations are pushing out family farms.

Hart, who spent a quarter-century at The Oregonian, also takes the reader behind the curtain of a small-staff newspaper in the pre-digital age.

One part murder mystery, one part journey of self-discovery, one part novel of ideas — “Skookum Summer” accomplishes an astonishing amount in just 300 pages. Jack Hart’s substantial book entertains as it provokes thought and shines with the skookum of its subject.

Jack Hart will discuss and sign “Skookum Summer: A Novel of the Pacific Northwest” at a free event at University Book Store (4326 University Way N.E.) at 7 p.m. on June 10.

JOE GARVIN is a member of the events staff at University Book Store (www.bookstore.washington.edu) in the University District. To comment on this review, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.