COOL OFF WITH A WOMAN P.I. IN ALASKA
If you long to see Alaska, but don’t have the time or the money right now, enjoy a great trip and a well-turned mystery with P.I. Kate Shugak.
The creation of Edgar-winning writer Dana Stabenow, Kate is an ethnic Aleut who was reared by her grandmother in a vast wilderness area known as The Park where she still lives. University educated, she learned her craft working as an investigator for the prosecutor’s office in Anchorage. Long returned to life in The Park, she makes her home in a settlement of half a dozen buildings where she has a cabin. The scar across the width of her throat bears witness to the fact that Kate’s no cream puff.
I discovered Stabenow, and came into her series, in its 14th book, A Taint in the Blood. Despite a couple of opening pages which I found fussy and unrelated to the plot, it quickly became a good read.
Kate’s new case begins when an expensively dressed woman, Charlotte Bannister Muravieff, arrives at her remote cabin seeking to hire her. The offspring of an old and influential Alaska family, Charlotte wants Kate to clear her mother of a murder conviction which sent her to prison 30 years earlier — before Alaska was even a state. The crime was particularly nasty in the eyes of the law and the public, for her mother, Victoria, was found guilty of burning down her own house while her son William slept inside.
With some reluctance, Kate takes on the case. She leaves for Anchorage on the small bush plane that connects The Park to the state’s largest city. These two settings treat readers to the rhythms and atmosphere of Alaska’s two parts: Traditional and modern; native and white. Kate is a woman who moves effortlessly, and with wry observations, between both worlds.
As Kate begins to dig, people related to the long-ago case — even some who had seemed to vanish — turn up dead. So does the woman who hired Kate. “Old family” social and political clout blocks her investigation. The woman serving time for the murder insists she’s guilty. Along the way, Kate’s lusty tormenting of State Trooper Jim Chopin makes for one of the freshest and funniest man-woman relationships I’ve encountered in some time.
Enjoy the settings. Enjoy the mystery. Enjoy this intelligent and thoroughly competent female private eye.
M. Ruth Myers is the author of the Maggie Sullivan mysteries and other novels.