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
“Blood Will Tell” brings Kate back to Anchorage to attend the Alaska Federation of Natives convention with her Grandmother, a power in the Native community, so Kate can investigate the mysterious death of one of the Council Members.
I enjoyed this book for many reasons, Kate’s struggle not to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and take on the mantle of leadership, the power and passion of Kate’s speech to the convention that shows her just how much like her grandmother she is and for the scene where Jack (white, middle-class, handsome male) takes Kate (Aleut, non-white and unadorned female) shopping for posh clothes in Nordstrom’s. The sales assistant’s unconscious and unflustered racism and sexism and Kate’s reaction to it are beautifully handled.
There is a sting at the end of the book: a death full of sadness, all sources of grief, a reshaping of Kate’s life. This hit home for me.
“Breakup” is another of my favourite books. It took me out of the shadow of the death in the last book and into the anarchic madness of spring in the Park.
This book is the funniest in the series. It made me laugh-out-loud several times. It kindled Spring in my spirit.
It has bears and tourists who shouldn’t be allowed out on their own and twitchy locals recovering from the isolation of winter and Kate, at home in the middle of it all, riding the chaos with a grin and still finding time to solve a murder and deal with it in her own unique way.
“Killing Grounds” is another book where Kate’s adventures give a behind the scenes view of a great Alaskan industry, as she goes commercial salmon fishing in Prince William Sound.
The plot is a classic whodunnit where Kate has to parse a long list of suspects to figure out who killed the most hated fisherman around. In the process, we get to see how the industry works and getting some vivid descriptions of commercial fishing.
What I like most was Kate’s relationship with Old Sam, who is her skipper as well as an, on the surface, disreputable, Tribal Elder. I also liked the way Kate accepted Jack’s son.
“Hunter’s Moon” was a book I initially felt a little betrayed by. I don’t expect to get nine books in and then have a major character die a violent death and have Kate helpless and humiliated. I raged a little at Dana Stabenow for putting me through this.
I raged a bit more at casting cardboard cut out Germans as the bad guys.
Then I got over it and gave Dana Stabenow credit for writing powerful, distressing scenes and for being brave enough to put her hero through such hell. Then I wondered what she’d do next.
What happened next was “Midnight Come Again”, the first Kate Shugak book of the twenty-first century. a book that was a complete departure from its predecessors.
It opens like a Tom Clancy novel with a rogue Russian military unit killing people in an armed robbery in Moscow. It was well written and intriguing but it left me with one big question: where is Kate Shugak? This is the question the whole novel sets out to answer.
Kate has left her life and disappeared. State Trooper, Jim Chopin, called “Father Of The Park” for his womanizing, asks after her whereabouts and discovers that no-one knows but everyone expects him to find her and bring her home.
Most of the book is told from Jim’s point of view, making Kate into a kind of ghost that he is summoning by finding out more and more about her.
In the end, he encounters her by chance while working with the FBI to track down some Russians. The Kate he finds has changed her name and become “the working dead” with no life except for her job running a small bush air service.
This is a dark, complex thriller. It is also an exploration of grief and loss. Finally, it is about choosing to continue to live when you know everything you valued has been lost because you are still needed and because living is better than the alternative