Another Review at MyShelf.Com

Though Not Dead
Kate Shugak Series, No 18
Dana Stabenow

Minotaur Books
2011 / ISBN 9780312559113
Lic Inv/Kate Shugak / Alaska / Contemporary

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First sentence: The black death didn’t get to Alaska until November.

Old Sam, a tribal leader and surrogate father to PI Kate Shugak, has died. He has made Kate his executor and primary heir but some of his bequests come as a surprise. Kate hadn’t known how much land Sam owned, including a homestead within gold-mining country. Then there’s the letter simply saying, “Find my father,” and how does this tie to a missing Russian icon which was a tribal artifact? Kate doesn’t know but something thinks she does as they keep trying to kill her. In the meantime, Kate’s lover, Sgt. Jim Chopak, has been summoned home for his father’s funeral. The relationship between him and his mother has always been chilly, but never more so than now that his father bequeathed Jim his locked writing box in which he finds a photograph of his mother and someone Jim has never before seen.

It is nice to see Ms. Stabenow returning to a more serious style. Not that her trademark humor is not longer apparent—it is—but this story is more layered, complex and a bit more serious than previous, recent entries.

Maps are a useful and wonderful way to provide the reader with a sense of location and perspective; I’m glad they are there. Complimenting them is an incredible ability to create a sense of places and people through Ms. Stabenow’s vivid descriptions. “..Kate almost stumbled over a pair of porcelain dogs guarding a high, round, spindle-legged table covered with china figurines dressed like characters out of the Angelique novels.” Okay, I’ll admit being partial to that particular description as I loved the “Angelique” books. The scene of Kate’s wolf/dog Mutt interacting with wild wolves against the snow under a full moon becomes one you are not reading, but seeing.

Characters come to life as well: “Judge Singh…had such immense dignity that she always seemed to be attired in her robes…” “At the desk sat Jane Silver, who looked like she out to be hunched over a steaming cauldron chatting in chorus with the other two weird sisters.” The people and relationships are real, including Kate’s relationship with Mutt, which adds, funny, touching and fearful moments to the story. The inclusion of a surprising and unexpected character only adds to the story.

The story itself is very good and very much about relationships. They really are the point from which the various lines of the story evolve. It’s not a perfect story. At times, it felt as if there was one thread too many and it bogged down. I found myself wanted to skip portions, although I didn’t, but it did feel overly long; too many scenes with Mutt, not enough “mystery” or flow to the story as I’d have hoped. Perhaps it’s just a case of my expecting more from an author who is so good.

Don’t misunderstand; I enjoyed the book very much for its characters, humor, sense of people and place, and tense scenes of strength and determination to survive. Although the plot could have been a little tighter, I’ll be right there read to buy the next book in the Shugak series.

Reviewer's Note: More on Dana Stabenow's Series
Reviewed 2011
© 2011