The Kate Shugak Series – Books 1-5 getting to know Kate and Alaska

Kate Shugak

“A Cold Day For Murder” was the first book I ever downloaded from audible.com. My wife and I listened to this five hours-long book together through a couple of dark afternoons in February 2012. It convinced me that audiobooks were an excellent way to relax while still concentrating.. It also introduced me to Kate Shugak, who didn’t impress me at first but soon carved a place for herself in my imagination.  When I finished “Bad Blood”, book 20, I assumed the series was over and found that I missed it a great deal.

This month sees the publication of the 21st book, “Less Than A Treason”.

Before I read it, I decided to remind myself of the story so far and how I felt about it. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers but it’s inevitable that you’ll get a sense of what happens to Kate during the course of the series.

I’ve split this into four posts to make them easier to read

I’ve provided links to my spoiler-free reviews of individual books if you want to be certain of not hearing something  you don’t want to know

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1 cold-day-for-murder“A Cold Day For Murder” introduced me to a damaged, Kate Shugak, living in seclusion on her homestead homestead in an Alaskan National Park with only Mutt, her half-wolf, half-husky bitch for company. Kate has retired from being an Investigator in the Anchorage DA’s Office, after a near fatal attack by a child killer, which left her with a scarred throat, a broken voice and a lot of anger. Kate is reluctantly pulled back into the world by Jack Morgan, her ex-boss, who asks her to investigate the disappearance of a Park Ranger.

This was a slow but atmospheric start with a strong sense of place and well drawn characters. I didn’t quite get Kate but even then I could feel her intensity and the strength of her connection to the Park and, almost reluctantly, to her people.

2 a-fatal-thaw“A Fatal Thaw” is the book that hooked me on the series and it’s still one of my favourites. This is the book in which Kate starts, reluctantly, on her path as protector of her community and instrument of natural justice. At the start of the book, Kate and Mutt take down a spree killer and the reaction in the town is that Kate is finally starting to live up to her potential as the granddaughter of the head of the Tribal Council.  The descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness and all its lethal beauty are vivid. Kate’s slow personal thaw is well-described and the ending at  Potlach is just perfect.

 

3 dead in the water4 a cold blooded business“Dead In The Water” and “A Cold-Blooded Business” are both good mysteries that would function as stand-alone thrillers, enhanced by vivid descriptions of major Alaskan industries in the mid-90s.

In “Dead In The Water”, Kate is under-cover, fishing for crab off the Aluetian Islands, investigating the disappearance of two crew members.

In “A Cold-Blooded Business” Kate is working on The Slope for a Prudhoe Bay Oil Company, investigating drug dealing. This book is strong on the oil industry and less strong on Kate.

In both books, Kate is distancing herself from the Park but deepening her connections with her Aleutian and Russian roots and with Alaskan politics in ways that will become important later.

In these books, Kate is confident and competent to the point of feeling almost indestructible, yet she is mostly alone and  feels like a sojourner rather than a part of the landscape. The one exception is when she meets a young Aluet girl and her grandmother. The scene with the girl using the Storyknife to tell her life in the sand is wonderful.

 

5 play with fire“Play With Fire” is book that I couldn’t bring myself to review at the time. There would have been too many spoilers involved and I was too angered by the content of the book.

In this book, Kate comes into conflict with an austere, slightly insane, Christian Cult that is light on the Christian and heavy on the Cult part. Dana Stabenow does a great job of showing how this kind of fear-and-hatred, we-are-the-chosen mindset can poison a community and damage lives. Kate’s instinctive and unrelenting hatred of the Cult as something evil and twisted endeared her to me. I’m an athiest but I prefer God-loving to God-fearing Christians and I believe cult leaders are parasites on humanity.

In retrospect, this book is important because it is the first time that Kate does not get her way and has to live with the frustration of not having the power to do what needs to be done

 

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