A Cold Day for Murder: A Kate Shugak Mystery, by Dana Stabenow

I know. This is a gawdawful late look at a popular author. But, again, first-in-series sales are wonderful sometimes.

Dana Stabenow is a multi-genre writer of mysteries and science fiction, but the bulk of her work has been in the Kate Shugak series. This is the first book in the series and it’s clear why they took off. It impressed me that even in this first book Kate Shugak is fully formed as a character. (I found this with Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, too.) She’s had experiences before the book opens that have caused her to leave a job as investigator and at this point will only investigate cases of interest or concern.

I have family in Alaska. My mother and aunt were raised there. A great-grandmother and grandmother died there. But they’re part of white Alaska, which is certainly shown in this book. Kate Shugak is from tribal Alaska and Stabenow gives a really interesting and sometimes painful look into life in that part of the state.

Both cultures are filled with oddballs and eccentrics. Based on my family tree the white eccentrics seem to be on the mark. Alcohol is frequently a solace in places where the sun doesn’t appear for month, and both groups are susceptible to the problems.

Even without the mystery or crime element this would have been an interesting book. The characters all come across as unique and realistic. The country is a story in itself. The mystery … in this first book two people have disappeared, one a fairly new and family-connected ranger. Kate agrees to investigate, hired by someone who worked with her at the Anchorage DA’s office.

The investigation works its way through a dot of a town where a bar is the main source of entertainment and through Kate’s family and native ties. I can’t say I was totally sold on the motives of the criminal captured at the end, but the mystery is solid and there are lots of side stories to keep your interest.

Any new author is unexplored territory. With the cost of books it can be intimidating to take on someone you’ve never read before. I suppose that’s why series books have become a mainstay of the mystery genre. There’s certainly a lot of crap writers in the field. So to be able to return to not only a trusted writer but a trusted investigator is very appealing. The problem if you come to them late is that you pretty much have to read from the beginning to keep track of romances, deaths, breakups, injuries, and all the other elements that come up in earlier books. Most writers manage to backstory fairly well but sometimes assumptions are made that a new reader isn’t clear on. In science fiction the phenomenon is more on the lines of the (shudder) trilogy because .. Tolkein

I’ll come back to Stabenow to find out what happens with some of the characters. But I’ll take it slow and in order.