Though Not Dead: A Kate Shugak Novel by Dana Stabenow
Minotaur Press, ISBN 0312559119
February 1, 2011, 464 pages
The death of Sam Dementieff will have a big effect on the residents of Alaska’s largest national park, both Native residents as well as the community as a whole. But none are more affected than his niece Kate Shugak. He was her uncle, but was actually more like a father to her after her parents died. He taught her much of what she know, about the natural world of Alaska as well as about how to deal with what life brings you, a lesson that has served Kate well, in her previous job as an investigator for the state and now in her life as a private investigator.
Since he had no children of his own, it come as no surprise that he leave Kate his belongings, his cabin, his books, along with a few instructions. What is surprising is the mystery he has left her to solve, including a note to “find his father”. It seems that it was not the man married to his mother, but a con man who befriended the tribe during the Flu Epidemic of 1918 and then made off with priceless artifacts, including a Russian icon that was said to have healing properties. But as Kate starts to look into matters, she soon finds that she is not the only one interested, and it appears that others will not even stop at murder to solve it.
I have read several of the books in this series before, and while I enjoyed them, this one may very well be my favorite. All the things I have loved before are back and then some. The Alaska setting is a big plus for me and Kate always gets to spend a lot of time out in it’s wildest reaches, which is fascinating. And if you have read any of the previous books, many of our favorite characters are back. Kate is great as usual, smart, yet headstrong enough to get her into some perilous situations. Her boyfriend Trooper Jim is back as well, although early in the story he must fly home to California to attend the funeral of his father and discover that his dad left him a mystery to solve as well, one his mother would very much like to remain a secret. But I must say that her canine pal Mutt, a 140 pound beast, half wolf, half husky, may be my favorite character and maybe one of the best doggie characters I have ever met. Brave, smart, strong, scary enough looking to keep strangers at a distance...what more can you want if the bad guys are chasing you?
But what sets this book up a notch from others in the series are the flashbacks to a variety of times in Alaska’s past from the flu epidemic, to the deadly battles in the Aleutian Island during WWII, to the beginning of statehood. This personal view into the history of Alaska was fascinating. All this will tie in one way or another to the mystery Sam’s has left but I doubt you will be able to figure all of it out because it is a complicated..and interesting..story.
OK, one small complaint…you know I had to have one..lol
I was happy to see that there was both a map and a family tree in the beginning of the book, because there are a lot of interrelated characters in this book. Sadly, a number of them were missing for some unknown reason from the tree and at time I was a little confused. OK, not that unusual, but not ideal. I am not sure if that is a family tree used in other books in the series…Kate’s family often plays a part in these books…but it needs a bit of work. Not a critical matter but a bit annoying.
And OK, maybe there was just one too many head injuries that never seem to keep Kate down. I would have been in a hospital for a week after the first.
But all in all, these are minor issues that did not affect my enjoyment of a very good book. If you are a fan of the series, this is a must read. If you have not read any before, while it might not be ideal to start this far along and you may appreciate it more if you have read some of the earlier books, I think it is totally doable as a standalone. There is enough explanation to allow you to figure things out and I am sure once you read this one you will want to go back and check out some of the others.