I came to Dana Stabenow via her wonderful Kate Shugak series. Now that I’ve finished those twenty books and the four in the loosely associate Liam Campbell series, I’ve turned my attention to her other novels.
“Blindfold Game” is a standalone thriller about a plot to bring harm to the US via the ports on its Alaskan coast.
As a thriller, it works very well: there is a twisty plot, a real sense of threat, and an “I must read one more chapter” pace.
What makes this into a Dana Stabenow thriller is the strong characters and the fully-immersive sense of place.
Many thrillers with this kind of premise are black and white affairs, with good Americans fighting to protect the American way of life from crazed fanatics from whatever group are currently at the top of the “We Hate America” list. These can be fun but they can also be very dull.
“Blindfold Game” is different. The “good” Americans do some fairly terrible things, up-close and personal, where the blood covers your clothes and you can feel the breath from the screams against your skin. The bad guys have reasons. It doesn’t make them any less bad but it places them far away from being crazy fanatics. Even the bad guys for hire have a backstory that makes them into real (albeit unpleasant and dangerous) people. This lifts a thriller from the formulaic to the stimulating.
I also liked the way in which Dana Stabenow showed me what life might be like in the US Coastguard. True, she seemed more than a little in love with the Service and its people, to the point where this book is a recruiting officer’s dream but that love translates into vivid descriptions of life at sea and strong insights into the culture of the Service.
One of the reasons I read Dana Stabenow’s books is because I am fascinated by the strong women she writes. “Blindfold Game” has two of them: a career Coastguard XO who is passionate about the sea and driven to have her own ship but who still can’t refrain from saying what she really thinks, even when it affects her career, and a retired war correspondent, now travel writer, who works for the CIA with a chilling efficiency and brutality that she disguises behind an “I’m just an American Grandma on vacation” facade.
This was a fun read. I intend to follow it up with “Prepared For Rage” which is another coastguard-centric thriller by Dana Stabenow.