For those who like series, mysteries, books with rich, idiosyncratic settings, engaging characters, Strong Women (which frankly, I think is getting to be something of a cliché’—not the women themselves, of course, but the mention of them as a talking point for a book. I mean, who recommends a book by saying, “The heroine is a weak, whiny, wilted piece of toast—but it’s a great book!”) and reasonably hot sex on occasion…let me recommend Dana Stabenow.
Dana is one of those amazing people who actually produces a book a year (I gasp in envy), and develops her characters and plots beautifully as the series progresses, though each book is a complete stand-alone mystery, and can be read on its own. The personal lives of the characters—particularly the main character, Kate Shugak—definitely would repay the effort of starting from the beginning, with A COLD DAY FOR MURDER.
Dana’s Wikipedia entry gives the following description of the series, and since they do it a lot more succinctly than I can [g], I’ll let them:
Kate Shugak is a Native Alaskan, an Aleut, living in a fictional national park in Alaska, based loosely on the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. Formerly an investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney’s office, an incident during which she is badly injured on the job causes her to quit and return home to live on her own. Regular characters in the Shugak series include:
- Mutt, Kate’s part-wolf dog.
- Jack Morgan, Anchorage District Attorney, and Kate’s lover for the first nine books.
- Ekatarina Shugak, Kate’s grandmother
- Bobby Clark, Vietnam vet and ham operator
- Dan O’Brien, Ranger assigned to the Park
- Sgt. Jim Chopin, a State Trooper assigned to the Park
- A Cold Day for Murder (1992) (the first in the Kate Shugak series) – A park ranger is missing, and so is the investigator the Anchorage police sent in to look for him. Kate’s ex-boss and ex-lover, Jack Morgan, convinces her to investigate their disappearances on her own terms, beginning her new career as a private investigator. This book introduces us to main characters that will remain constants in the books to come and sets the tone for the coming books. The storyline establishes the relationship between Kate and Jack and gives some background information and insight into their relationship.
- A Fatal Thaw (1992) – A killer claims eight victims but nine bodies were found lying in the snow.
- Dead in the Water (1993) – Kate hires on as a deckhand on a crabber where two former deckhands mysteriously disappeared. This novel talks about life on a crab fishing boat and the dangers on the sea.
- A Cold-blooded Business (1994) – A novel that talks about life in the oil fields above the Arctic Circle has Kate looking into drug smuggling and finding other illegal situations as well.
- Play With Fire (1995) – While picking mushrooms, Kate and her friends stumble upon the body of the son of the leader of a religious sect.
- Blood Will Tell (1996) – Mostly set at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention, which Kate attends at the insistence of her grandmother, Kate looks into the death of one of the local village’s board members.
- Breakup (1997) – Breakup is the season of early Spring, when the rivers and ground starts to thaw and people can start spending more time outdoors again. Kate looks into the death of a woman by a bear that doesn’t quite add up.
- Killing Grounds (1998) – Set in the summer fishing season of salmon, Kate investigates the death of a fellow fisherman while working as a deckhand on a tender.
- Hunter’s Moon (1999) – Kate and Jack take on a job to escort a group of business men and woman into the park trophy hunting.
- Midnight Come Again (2000) – After the events in the previous novel, Kate has gone missing from her home and friends.
- The Singing of the Dead (2001) – Kate hires on to protect the life of a candidate for Alaskan State Senator.
- A Fine and Bitter Snow (2002) – A novel that talks about oil drilling in a wildlife preserve, Kate looks into an attack on two friends of her late grandmother.
- A Grave Denied (2003) – Some students on a field trip discover a body in the mouth of a glacier.
- A Taint in the Blood (2004) – A woman hires Kate to clear her mother of a thirty year old murder, but the mother doesn’t want to be cleared.
- A Deeper Sleep (2007) – Kate tries to get a conviction on a repeat offender while her tribal elders try to get her to take a more solid role in the tribe.
- Whisper to the Blood (February, 2009) – A world-class gold mine is discovered in the Park at almost the same moment Kate is whipsawed by the Aunties into a seat on the local Native association board of directors.
- A Night Too Dark (scheduled for 2010)
I’ve read A NIGHT TOO DARK, and it’s every bit as good as the rest of the series; I’ve seldom met a more dependable author, in term both of productivity and quality. [g]
(Actually, I’ve just read the new, not-yet-published Kate Shugak novel, THOUGH NOT DEAD—and I think it’s the best of the whole series so far! Will be published February 1, 2011.)
I like Dana’s Liam Campbell series even better (the German translator who has worked on both our books, and has read all Dana’s mysteries, says that Liam Campbell is the closest thing she’s seen to a modern-day Jamie Fraser—and the sex is particularly good in those), but the four Campbell books are unfortunately out of print at the moment and no more under contract, which is a shame—but they are available in a Kindle edition, which is great news!
So here’s a tiny bit of A NIGHT TOO DARK (Copyright © 2010 by Dana Stabenow):
She heaved a martyr’s sigh. ”All right,” she said, as they had both known she would. “I’ll find him and talk to him for you. I’d like to see this Lothario for myself, anyway.”
She came around the counter and sauntered toward him. He admired her while she did so. Yeah, maybe she didn’t have the figure Laurel had, but when she wanted to, Kate could telegraph her intentions in a way that was little less than incitement to riot. Jim had watched plenty of women walk in his lifetime, both toward him and away, and he had never appreciated the amalgamation of brain and bone, muscle and flesh the way he did when it came wrapped in this particular package.
“Beat it,” she said to Mutt.
Mutt flounced over to the fireplace, scratched the aunties’ quilt into a pile, turned around three times, and curled up with her back most pointedly toward them.
Kate smiled down at Jim. Just like that, Jim got hard. And she knew it, he could tell by the deepening indentations at the corners of that wide, full-lipped mouth. “Jesus, woman,” he said. If he wasn’t flustered, it was as close as he ever got.
“What can I say,” she said. “I have special powers.” He was pulled to a sitting position with a fistful of shirt and she climbed aboard.
(My husband caught sight of one of Dana’s books on the kitchen table, asked me what it was, and upon being told that it was a murder mystery set in Alaska, exclaimed, “And her name is Stab-‘em-now”?! What a _great_ name for a mystery writer!” Alas, it’s really pronounced STAB-uh-no, but still great books.)
See more about Dana at http://www.stabenow.com/