Mini Reviews: 3 Kate Shugak Novels by Dana Stebenow
I separate thrillers or mysteries into two distinct categories.
I love the old fashioned sleuth stories consisting of smart detectives whose investigative skills rival Sherlock Holmes, where probing investigation and a nose for ferreting out truth pull you into the heart of the story. A second category is the titillating serial-killer aka psychopath who has no qualities except to do evil with a smart detective ready to take the disgusting psycho-human down.
Dana Stebenow's writing falls solidly into the first category with her Kate Shugak series.
Kate's a petite five-foot Aleut and a P.I. who lives on a 160-acre homestead in an Alaskan National Park. Her beloved companion Mutt is an impressively sized half-wolf half-husky who weighs significantly more than Kate. Mutt's love for and loyalty to Kate take them through adventures in the rugged Alaskan wilderness that completely satisfies my love of epic detective tales. (And stories involving dogs.)
Stabenow's written eighteen novels with Kate and Mutt delving into secrets and solving crimes. Old Sam Dementieff, her uncle who raised her as his daughter, her adopted teenage son Johnny and her love interest Trooper Jim Chopin are a colorful and always entertaining cast of characters.
Kate's home in the wilderness is a half-hour trip to the closest settlement, the Ninilna village along the 600 mile long Kanuyaq River, a waterway rich in salmon that feeds into Prince William Sound. She comes in contact with recluses, dog mushers, miners, hunters, fishermen, park rangers and other natives: Aleuts, Athabascans and Tlingits. There's an inexhaustible array of individuals and an extensive history of Alaska. This in itself makes the reading of Stabenow's books a joy beyond good storytelling.
I recently read three of Stabenow's books, each one with a unique quality and story. I did not read them in the order they were written, which would be a preferred chronology, naturally. They are well-written and any references to past events are clearly delineated within each book. In fact, I read the most recent book first and will review them in the strange order in which I read them.
Though Not Dead - Kate Shugak #18
I discovered Though Not Dead while perusing the thriller/mystery section of a local book store. I knew nothing about Dana Stabenow so it was the cover and the commentary on the back that drew me to it.
Kate's uncle, Sam Dementieff, has died. He's left Kate all of his worldly goods plus a letter asking her to find his father. Kate discovers that Sam's biological father disappeared shortly after his birth absconding with a beautiful and priceless tribal relic believed to have healing powers. His mother's tribe held it as sacred. It's also a rare Russian icon that fell into tribal hands and is worth a great deal of money to collectors. The quest for the tribal relic takes Kate into remote wilderness, dangerous mines, and travels as far as Seattle, Washington. It's tense and fast paced and loyal pooch Mutt travels at Kate's side protecting and watching over her--I sure do love Mutt!
Whisper to the Blood - Kate Shugak #16
In Whisper To The Blood a gold mining company is buying up land. Despite the fears and misgivings of the community, the fact that gold is at nine hundred dollars an ounce beguiles them into taking a second look. Talia Macleod, a champion Alaskan skier, travels about speaking for the new company. Her glamour and her charm soften their hearts as much as the allure of money. Macleod knew about Alaskan culture. She was part of it.
Alaskans had attitude, no doubt about that. They loved their land with a fierceness that bordered on mania, while freely admitting insanity was a prerequisite to living there.
Their fierce love of the land and pride in one another binds them together when murders begin occurring, one death was of an opponent of the mine. Murders plus brutal attacks on snowmobilers along the Kanuyaq River create a sinister twist on the implementation of the mining project. Kate has become the chairman of the Niniltna Native Association. This responsibility brings she and Mutt into direct confrontation with the killer and attackers. The legal responsibility for solving the crimes falls upon Jim Chopin's shoulders. With Kate and Mutt at his side, sometimes with Kate and Mutt on their own, the series of criminal acts come to a halt along with a vigilantism that threatens the security and sanity of the wilderness people.
A Night Too Dark - Kate Shugak #17
A Night Too Dark continues the saga of Kate dealing with the gold mine coming to her wilderness home, seducing her friends with promises of jobs and prosperity and leaving Kate feeling conflicted. Jobs would bring money to her community, her people and her region but the jobs come with a price.
Mining brings pollution, more people and ecological devastation that the mine owners attempt to play down to the locals. The controversial mine has even seduced her son, Johnny, into accepting a summer job. Kate reasons that the experience can benefit him. But, the experience becomes a threat and an integral part of his growing maturity, then without a clear reason people begin to disappear. The world's second largest gold mine becomes a crime scene for PI Shugak, Mutt and Trooper Jim Chopin. The crimes challenge their sharply honed detective skills. The saga continues to unfold while illuminating Alaska culture and economic issues through the eyes of P.I. Kate Shugak.
In the tradition of detective serials, the Kate Shugak novels entertain and inform with a rich setting and enjoyable atmosphere. I love the array of unique characters set against the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. Fortunately, I have fifteen more books in this series to select from and indulge my love of a good mystery.