The Kate Shugak books are usually credible, compact mysteries, set against a backdrop of some significant aspect of life in Alaska. “Dead In The Water” has Jack Morgan getting Kate to go under-cover as crew boat fishing for crab off the Aleutian Islands, to investigate the disappearance of two former crew members.
What follows is a vivid description of what life on board is like and an mystery with enough twist and turns and action and physical danger to keep everything moving along nicely.
For me the “whodunit” aspects of the Kate Shugak novels are secondary considerations, a frame for hanging the important stuff from. When the book is back on the shelf and time has passed, it’s not the plot twist that stay with me but the vivid scenes of Alaskan life and what I learn about Kate Shugak.
“Dead In The Water” has several of these memorable moments: Kate drinking with a crew of Russian fishermen in a bar in the port, all of them trying to woo her in a semi-serious, larger than life kind of way; Kate’s enounter with a young, deformed, Aluet girl who interprets life by using a storyknife to draw in the sand on the beach and her basket-weaviung grandmother who shares details of the history of her people and Kate’s plunge into the freezing depths, trapped in a crab cage. All of these are told with a skill and an eye for detail that makes them real and compelling.
Kate is the centre piece of all of these novels. She is the reason I keep coming back. I this novel I got to see her as a woman confident enough of her own attractiveness and her own strength to spend time with the Russian sailors without feeling threatened by them or offending them. I saw the softer side of her in her gentle teasing of her young, over-enthusiastic Californian-surfer crewmate who loves EVERYTHING Alaskan. I saw the heart of her in her passionate relationship with Jack Morgan. I saw her again tracing the impact of her heritage and her culture in her deference to the elder who teaches her to weave and her affection for the young girl telling stories written in sand.
That is more than enough to make any book successful and is quite extraordinary for a short, crime-fiction novel.