Reviewed by Kristin
Dana Stabenow left her readers on edge four years ago with a cliffhanger at the end of the last Kate Shugak book, Bad Blood. This was no small, inconsequential cliff either—we were left wondering if Kate herself was alive or dead, not to mention Mutt, her beloved dog/wolf hybrid. Spoiler alert: If you haven’t figured it out from the fact that there is another book in the series—Kate survives. Mutt, well, you’ll just have to read and find out.
Although severely injured, Kate left the hospital against medical advice and has holed up in a box canyon on a nearly vertical 160 acre Alaskan homestead, tearing down Old Sam’s decrepit cabin and building another with her bare hands. When a group of orienteers (hikers using maps and compasses to navigate from place to place) travels straight through her metaphorical back yard, Kate is disturbed, even more so when one of the group tumbles back to her cabin after tripping over some human bones.
A Native Aleut and private investigator, Kate is used to her independence. Although romantically involved with state trooper Jim Chopin, after her injury Kate felt the need to lick her wounds in peace. After a significant inheritance from his father, Jim has resigned his law enforcement position. Used to flying all over the area in which the roads are impassable more often than not, Jim starts airplane shopping like most of us might shop for a car. When Kate and Jim finally do reunite, sparks fly.
Even though I have never been to Alaska, the characters here ring true to me. Kate can be dark and brooding with her mysterious scars, but is well respected within the Native community. Her grandmother was highly regarded, and the other Aunties do their best to keep Kate close. The “Park rats,” other Natives who live on private property within the national park, have strengths and foibles like any other group of neighbors who must depend on one another. Jim may be the handsome stranger, but he has been taken into the group because of his affiliation with Kate. Even Mutt has been an outstanding character throughout the series with her faithfulness amidst her wildness.
Stabenow makes a tiny jab at United States politics without actually naming the 2016 presidential election; Kate goes to vote after bemoaning the horrible choices of candidates, including some detailed descriptions of the candidates’ characters. She also throws in a little pop-culture as Kate realizes that a certain person reminds her of a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These connections with the “real world” don’t detract from the fictional landscape within Alaska’s Quilak mountains, but just provided (to me, at least) a couple of chuckles.
Althought it was worth the wait, I certainly hope that Stabenow will publish another Kate Shugak mystery before another four years have passed.