It is unusual, though not unheard of, for a novel to win the kind of unanimous approbation that was expressed Tuesday night for A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow. Ms Stabenow, a lifelong resident of Alaska, is fiercely loyal to her natal state. That does not lead her whitewash its tribulations, however.
Kate Sugak had been investigating sex crimes for the Anchorage DA’s office when she was savagely attacked and almost killed. In her struggle to recover, she has withdrawn to an isolated homestead deep in the Alaskan bush. But her skills as an investigator and her intimate knowledge of the Aleut community – she’s related by blood to a goodly number of its members- are desperately needed to advance an FBI case. So desperately that an agent shows up at her front door, accompanied by her former boss and ex-lover Jack Morgan.
It seems that a Park Ranger has been missing for six weeks. The FBI had sent in an agent two weeks ago to search for him. Now both the agent and the ranger have disappeared. With great reluctance, Kate is drawn into the investigation. And it is the quest for these two missing men that provides the framework and the momentum for a novel that is just as much about the state of the state of Alaska as it is about the solving of a particular mystery. Family obligations set against a desire for freedom of movement, tradition as opposed to change, environmentalists against – well, just about everyone: these conflicts are vividly depicted here. But the author never gets doctrinaire; she prefers to allow the characters’ passions, convictions, and anxieties to speak through their words and actions.
In A Cold Day for Murder, Dana Stabenow presents an entire world – her world. As one of the Suspects observed Tuesday night, Alaska itself is a character in this novel. But as such, it exists alongside real flesh and blood human beings, among whom Kate Shugak, the series protagonist, stands out as an especially compelling creation. A Cold Day for Murder, the first in the Kate Shugak series, came out in 1992. The following year, it won the Edgar for best paperback original. (When her editor called to tell her she’d been nominated for the award, Stabenow’s response was: “Great! What’s an Edgar?”) Last year, the novel reissued in hardback by Poisoned Pen Press. (And Kindle owners: it is available for downloading free from Amazon.)
Toward the evening’s conclusion, Mike, our presenter, asked us if we’d be interested in reading more of Dana Stabenow’s fiction. That’s the acid test for us choosy readers. As far as I could discern, we all answered in the affirmative.
Thanks to Mike for being an effective and enlightening discussion leader. And thanks to the Usual Suspects for being such a great group of mystery lovers!
Dana Stabenow comes across as a person with whom it would be enjoyable to spend time. Here she is. holding forth on the subject of the Kate Shugak novels: