Once, Kate Shugak was the star investigator of the Anchorage D.A.'s office. Now she's gone back to her Aleut roots in the far Alaska north - where her talent for detection makes her the toughest crime-tracker in that stark and mysterious land.
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This is my first book involving Kate Shugak but I didn't have the feeling that I missed much. The prose is good but not exceptional, and the narration is acceptable but flat. The trouble is that I like mysteries more than thrillers, and this book has very little mystery. In my lexicon, a mystery is a story in which the villain(s) are not apparent, at least, not until very late in the story. A thriller is a story in which there is a great deal of action surrounding the protagonist, who either is in great danger or at a loss about how to track down the bad guys. A thriller can also be a mystery, but often the protagonist (and the reader) knows who the villains are very early on, and the tension is in the chase.
Since this is my first in the series, I don't know the author's intent, but I knew who the villains were and what they were up to long before Kate or her paramour and sponsor Jack Morgan did. There is a bit of a mystery about what happened to a couple of sailors, but, since we never encounter them, we don't really much care except in the abstract. Much of what Jack digs up late in the book could have been uncovered much earlier with only a little more research. I couldn't understand why Kate, who is neither a cop nor a detective, is willing to take such enormous risks, volunteer to experience such physical trauma, and still go back for more. There is the suggestion that she was partly motivated by the money, but that seems rather far-fetched, given her choice of lifestyle. Further, Jack seems to be essentially indifferent to both her physical suffering and the danger in which he placed her. He didn't have her back, and Kate had no way to call in the cavalry if things got out of hand--all very strange for a couple supposedly in love. Thus, I am left with mixed feelings about this book, but I'll probably read the next in the series, which is highly acclaimed by other readers.
- MidwestGeek "Love a good mystery, but don't care much for pure thrillers."
Kate goes fishing for killers
The Kate Shugak books are usually credible, compact mysteries, set against a backdrop of some significant aspect of life in Alaska. "Dead In The Water" has Jack Morgan getting Kate to go under-cover as crew boat fishing for crab off the Aleutian Islands, to investigate the disappearance of two former crew members.
What follows is a vivid description of what life on board is like and an mystery with enough twist and turns and action and physical danger to keep everything moving along nicely.
For me the "whodunit" aspects of the Kate Shugak novels are secondary considerations, a frame for hanging the important stuff from. When the book is back on the shelf and time has passed, it's not the plot twist that stay with me but the vivid scenes of Alaskan life and what I learn about Kate Shugak.
"Dead In The Water" has several of these memorable moments: Kate drinking with a crew of Russian fishermen in a bar in the port, all of them trying to woo her in a semi-serious, larger than life kind of way; Kate's enounter with a young, deformed, Aluet girl who interprets life by using a storyknife to draw in the sand on the beach and her basket-weaviung grandmother who shares details of the history of her people and Kate's plunge into the freezing depths, trapped in a crab cage. All of these are told with a skill and an eye for detail that makes them real and compelling.
Kate is the centre piece of all of these novels. She is the reason I keep coming back. I this novel I got to see her as a woman confident enough of her own attractiveness and her own strength to spend time with the Russian sailors without feeling threatened by them or offending them. I saw the softer side of her in her gentle teasing of her young, over-enthusiastic Californian-surfer crewmate who loves EVERYTHING Alaskan. I saw the heart of her in her passionate relationship with Jack Morgan. I saw her again tracing the impact of her heritage and her culture in her deference to the elder who teaches her to weave and her affection for the young girl telling stories written in sand.
That is more than enough to make any book successful and is quite extraordinary for a short, crime-fiction novel.