Saturday, September 11, 2010

Whisper to the Blood, Dana Stabenow

"Inside Alaska’s biggest national park, around the town of Niniltna, a gold mining company has started buying up land. The residents of the Park are uneasy. “But gold is up to nine hundred dollars an ounce” is the refrain of Talia Macleod, the popular Alaskan skiing champ the company has hired to improve their relations with Alaskans and pave the way for the mine’s expansion. And she promises much-needed jobs to the locals.

But before she can make her way to every village in the area to present her case at town meetings and village breakfasts, there are two brutal murders, including that of a long-standing mine opponent. The investigation into those deaths falls to Trooper Jim Chopin and, as usual, he needs Kate to help him get to the heart of the matter.

Between those deaths and a series of attacks on snowmobilers up the Kanuyaq River, not to mention the still-open homicide of Park villain Louis Deem last year, part-time P.I. and newly elected chairman of the Niniltna Native Association Kate Shugak has her hands very much full."  (from bookbrowse.com-I'm cheating on my summaries today!)

If you haven't read Dana Stabenow's Kate Shugak series yet, I highly recommend them for popcorn reading.  The setting is really what makes the book.  Kate is an Aleut Indian, raised by her grandmother in the Park-a generic national park in Alaska, miles away from anywhere, full of Aleuts, Athabaskans, trappers, subsistence fishermen, hunters, miners, and the occasional shady character running from something-spouse, bank, or police.  The four Aunties who are the unofficial heart, soul, and law of the Park feel like something out of Greek mythology.  While many of the Park residents are on the dissolute side, for the most part everyone bands together to survive and make a productive life in what is one of the most difficult places to live on Earth. 

The Kate Shugak novels always have layers-the Park is 20,000,000 acres of space for people to hide things.  There is a lot going on below the surface.  Usually I like a complex storyline, but this one felt a little crowded.  Maybe it's the start of school and my grad school work taking up most of my cognitive energy, but I found myself losing storylines, which almost never happens.  Even at the very end, during the "big reveal", I had to go back and re-read to make sure I remembered who had done what to who. 

The characters were, as usual, spot on.  Kate's character is sort of that stereotypical loner-female-PI, but something about the setting and her lifestyle makes that feel fresh.  Stabenow can make this eccentric cast of characters feel real and believable.  Kate's relationship with Trooper Jim is one of those tumultuous "should we/shouldn't we/am I too damaged/can I trust someone" romances that drive me crazy.  Generally speaking if the two adults involved just shared more words and less sex there would be no reason for all the drama.  But, for the most part that was underplayed in this book except where it affected the storyline, which I appreciated.  Overall, I'd say this is not my favorite of Stabenow's books, but I would still recommend her and it to anyone looking for a good location-based mystery series.

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