Dana Stabenow

Books: Mystery | Fantasy

Kate Shugak: A Cold Day for Murder (1992), A Fatal Thaw (1993), Dead in the Water (1993), A Cold-Blooded Business (1994), Play With Fire (1995), Blood Will Tell (1996), Breakup (1997), Killing Grounds (1998), Hunter's Moon (1999), Midnight Come Again (2000), The Singing of the Dead (2001), A Fine and Bitter Snow (2002), A Grave Denied (2003), A Taint in the Blood (2004), A Deeper Sleep (2007), Whisper to the Blood (2009), A Night Too Dark (2010), Though Not Dead (2011), Restless in the Grave (2012), Bad Blood (2013)

Liam Campbell: Fire and Ice (1998)

Short Stories: Nooses Give (2011), Conspiracy (2011), Wreck Rights (2011), Cherchez la Femme (2011), Any Taint of Vice (2012)


Powers of Detection (2004), Unusual Suspects (2008), At the Scene of the Crime: Forensic Mysteries from Today's Best Writers (2009), Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (2008), The Collected Short Stories (2013)

Kate Shugak

Midnight Come Again (2000)

Last year I picked up A Taint in the Blood and thoroughly enjoyed it. But from details mentioned in the book, wasn't sure if I wanted to go back and read earlier in the series. However, I discovered that Midnight Come Again is set after her lover is brutally murdered, so decided this would be an okay place to start further back in the series. (I have no interest in reading something that depressing.)

Although it's a Kate Shugak book, we start off in Russia, then the story moves to First Sargent Jim Chopin being ordered to go undercover in Bering Alaska. The FBI suspects the Russian Mafia is acting in Bering, but doesn't know how or why, so they send Jim (and to FBI agents) up to see what they can discover.

What Jim discovers when he gets to baring is Kate, hiding out under an assumed name. He also discovers that the FBI wasn't being completely honest with him as to what they were searching for.

I really like Kate. As she's a mess through much of the book, I can see why much of the story focus (especially in the beginning) was on Jim Chopin. She wasn't falling apart per se, but she was barely holding herself together, and that's hard to read for an extended period of time. So this gave us an escape from Kate's grief, as well as some outside perspective.

And I've got the next books in the series ready to order.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 8/10

The Singing of the Dead (2001)

A native woman is running for state senator, and after multiple threatening notes, the staff decided that she needs security. Despite her better judgment (and in need of money) Kate takes the job, even though she intensely dislikes the campaign manager (and the feeling is mutual.)

I enjoyed the mystery, as well as the events of Kate's life woven through the story. We also learn dollops about Kate's past, and her continuing bickering with Jim Chopin. I also enjoyed the glimpses of life in Alaska.

But what I especially liked was the story woven through–the story of the Dawson Darling. That was fascinating–not only the story itself, but the glimpse of life in Alaska in the late 1800s early 1900s. Especially as Dana Stabenow based her Dawson Darling character upon real women who went to Alaska at that time to work as prostitutes. (Don't worry, the main story does not deal with prostitution, just the secondary story.)

If you have not read a previous Kate Shugak book, you should be able to read The Singing of the Dead without prior knowledge of the characters.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 8/10

A Fine and Bitter Snow (2002)

The Park (and Kate Shugak) are riled up when they discover that Dan O'Brian–the chief ranger of the park–is asked to leave by the new presidential administration. When two local environmentalists are attacked, Niniltna is thrown into an even greater uproar, wondering who in their community could have been behind the attack.

Meanwhile, Kate is still recovering from the loss of Jack, but also starting to wonder where she is going with her life, and if she should start dating again.

I am continuing to enjoy this series, and am having a hard time not reading them all one after another. In fact, I've been having a hard time putting them down to go to bed, and twice have stayed up to midnight to finish a book. Not a big deal on a weekend, but not so hot when I have to go to work the next day.

As with all the Kate Shugak books I have read so far, you should be able to read this book without having read any previous books.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10

A Grave Denied (2003)

This is the book published right before where I entered the series (A Grave Denied), so I knew that at some point in this book a Bad Thing was going to happen to Kate. I was surprised when The Bad Thing happened quite early in the book.

The area handyman is found dead, but they're having a hard time determining when he died, and who might have wanted him dead.

Like the previous book, there is a separate narration woven through the story. In this case it's Johnny Morgan's journal he's to keep over the summer as a school requirement. Although I enjoyed the journal portions of the story, I'm not quite sure she got young teen boy down quite right. I realize it was supposed to be a school assignment, but the writing was just a little too adult in tone. It's not a drawback per se, but it kept making me think Johnny was older than he actually was.

What I particularly liked were several other threads that wound their way through the book. Bobby Clark receives a visit from his estranged brother–a situation that doesn't bode well, considering how Bobby speaks his mind voraciously. And Kate and Jim Chopin are going back and forth as to what the feel for each other. Since Jim has hired Kate to help him with the case, it's an issue that repeatedly comes to his attention. And Johnny Morgan is still in fear his mother will find him–a situation that needs to be dealt with.

This was another solid addition to the Kate Shugak series–I've really enjoyed reading this series, and now wait impatiently for new books to come out. (I know I could go back and start at the beginning, but I just don't feel up to reading about the death of Jack Morgan, so I'll wait–perhaps indefinitely–for the start of the series.

As with the other books in the series you should be able to read A Grave Denied without having read any of the previous books in the series.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10

A Taint in the Blood (2004)

I'm always on the lookout for new mysteries–especially ones I think my grandmother will enjoy. I've read two supernatural mystery series edited by Dana Stabenow, so I decided to pick up one of her books.

As you have probably noticed, I prefer to start at the beginning of a series, so I have no idea what I was thinking when I picked up A Taint in the Blood, which is–I think–thirteen books into the series. Despite feeling like I was missing something when I started reading (I quickly realized that this was not, in fact, the first book in the series), I quickly picked up on Kate's character and personality, and was just about as quickly sucked into the book.

Kate Shugak is a private investigator in Alaska. She has living space in Anchorage, but prefers to live in the Park in Niniltna, where her family and neighbors have built her a new home after her cabin burned to the ground during her last case. A woman shows up on her doorstep (no mean feat in rural Alaska) asking Kate to reopen a cold case and prove that her mother did not–in fact–kill her brother thirty years before. A very cold case, and one that someone is not eager for Kate to reopen.

Once I realized that I was starting an already established series, I relatively quickly got my bearings. There were plenty of things I wondered about, having not read the previous books in the series, but it just made more interested in reading more of the series. Of course, knowing that some of those events are tragic, I'm thinking that I might just more forward in the series instead of returning to the beginning of the series.

But we'll have to see.

I'm not sure how my grandmother will feel about this book. There was a fair amount of boinking, and although there wasn't detail, she doesn't always enjoy books with boinking, so we'll have to see what she thinks if she picks it up to start reading.

I'm eager to read the next book in the series.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10

A Deeper Sleep (2007)

Kate Shugak has been helping the state build a case against Louis Deem. According to everyone in the park, deep has gotten away with murder several times, but his good looks and reputation (and threats from his friends) have gotten him off time and time again, and the women he abuses refuse to testify against him. As Deem has gotten off time and again, Kate and her neighbors have come to believe that nothing is going to take him down. But each time he comes to trial, there's a hope that this time things will be different.

Additionally, Kate and Jim Chopin are still trying to figure out their relationship, and adding a local murder to the mix isn't helping anything.

Since I had the background of the previous book behind me, I didn't feel completely lost when I started A Deeper Sleep. Yes, there are events in the past that I've missed, but we're given enough details that we know what happened without having to have lived through it. So I had a much easier time starting this book than the previous.

Interestingly, this book is also about the secrets that people keep for each other and from each other. Jim and Kate both learn the secrets of others, and are unwilling to share those secrets with each other. In a way this is a good thing, since it makes them trustworthy, but in another way it does put up small barriers and make communication difficult.

The more I read, the more I like Kate. She's a tough woman, but she flaws on the side of compassion, which–to me–make her far more admirable.

I am definitely enjoying this series, and although I'm not sure about going back and reading previous books (it seems as if she's had a lot of terrible things happen to her in the past) I definitely want to keep reading forward.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10

Audio Version (2007) narrated by Bernadette Dunne

Publisher: Books on Tape

Rating: 8.5/10

Whisper to the Blood (2009)

The Park is still uneasy after the death of Louis Deem, and when a representative of a mining company comes in talking up a gold mine, things are stirred up even more. Residents are attacked and their supplies stolen, and people are starting to take matters into their own hands.

In the midst of this Kate and Jim are dealing with the secrets they have kept from one another–even if those secrets were kept for good reasons.

And to add insult to injury, Kate has been appointed to the Board to replace Billy Mike, and the aunties have manipulated things to make Kate the Chairman–a task for which she is woefully unprepared.

I particularly enjoyed Kate's evolving relationship with the aunties. They have been a support for her since her childhood, and are the center of the lives of the residents of Niniltna. But the proposal of the mine is splitting the town, and Kate is not sure if the aunties have the best interests of the town in mind.

We also see Kate and Jim's relationship further evolving–they both have to deal with Jim's past and his past popularity with the women of the park.

Although the events in those book are closely linked with those in the previous book, you should be able to read this book without having read previous books in the series. On the other hand, you may miss a couple things, especially in Kate's relationship with the aunties.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 8/10

A Night Too Dark (2010)

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10

Though Not Dead (2011)

This book takes place immediately after A Night Too Dark. "Old Sam" Dementieff has died, and he made Kate his executor and heir. Just as she is starting to settle his estate, Jim–who she has been leaning on a bit to get her through this–is called home with the news that his father has died.

Soon both are trying to uncover the mysteries these men left behind for them when they died. Unfortunately for Kate, the mystery she begins to uncover gains the interest of people who seem willing to harm Kate for what she may or may not know.

I really like this series. I like Kate (she's a kick-ass heroine, how could I not?), and I like the world where she lives.

I noticed something very interesting in this book, that I've picked up on other long-running series–for male characters, military service shifts in time, thus removing an obvious link to a character's age. In this series, it's Bobby Clark who was initially described (IIRC) as a Vietnam Vet, but in those book, he is described as a veteran of a land war in Asia (a lovely hat tip to The Princess Bride I must say). The same thing happened with Robert B Parker's Spenser, and I believe, characters in the Elvis Cole (Robert Crais) series. At some point, it seems like authors realize that if they want to keep writing a series in the present, they need to be careful about setting events to specific years.

Aside from that, the writing is what I expect, the relationship between Kate and Jim remains strong, and it's interesting to see how Kate has grown, specifically in taking care of Johnny Morgan but even more so in taking a place of responsibility in her community. Kate does not want the responsibility, but she also recognizes the importance of someone taking responsibility.

I do agree with another reviewer, however, in that I'm not sure how Kate continues to function with as many head injuries as she's taken.

Published by Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10

Restless in the Grave (2012)

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Bad Blood (2013)

So, I was contentedly reading along, noting the parallels between part of this story and Romeo & Juliet, reading, reading, reading, and then I reach the last page.

"What? What the hell?"

(Looks for another chapter)

"What the hell?"

Is this the end of the series?

I have no clue. If it IS the end of the series, it would have been nice to know that going in. If this is NOT the end of the series, then this was a nasty, dirty trick of a last page.

And really, I don't think I can say anything else about this book, the ending was THAT much of a problem for me.

Published by Minotaur Books

Rating: 1/10 (solely for the ending)

Kate Shugak Short Stories

Conspiracy (2011)

A brief history of the Grosdider brothers and how Something Was Done about them.

Nooses Give (2011)

Set immediately before the first Kate Shugak book. Kate searches out a bootlegger, after three teens are found dead.

Wreck Rights (2011)

Set during the time Jim was denying he was in love with Kate. Semis keep wrecking on the same spot on the Glenn Highway, and it becomes a problem when a body is discovered in the wreckage.

Cherchez la Femme (2011)

Dulcey Kineen is one of those women that causes trouble wherever she goes. It's not even necessarily on purpose, it just happens.

Any Taint of Vice (2012)

Any Taint of ViceA Kate Shugak short story for 99¢? Yes please!

Kate receives a call to come to Anchorage and find a general's son and destroy the incriminating pictures.

And not in the order.

It's a nice short story, and shows a peek at how Kate keeps Mutt in kibble.

Made me want to read more Kate stories.

Published by Minotaur Books

Rating: 7/10

Liam Campbell

Fire and Ice (1998)

Fire and IceLiam Campbell is a state trooper who has been demoted and shipped off to Newenham AK, where he supposes he'll rebuild his life–but isn't much looking forward to it.

As he steps off the plane the first thing he sees is a bloody death, and the second the woman who was the love of his life.

Then he's called in to deal with a shooting at the local bar/restaurant, and the trooper he is replacing leaves without giving Liam as much as a how-dee-do, leaving Liam to struggle his way blindly through figuring out who is who, what is what, and even where his office is.

This series, like her Kate Shugak series, is set in Alaska, though along the bay instead of in the interior. Liam is a State Trooper with a complex past, and Wy, the woman he loves, isn't particularly simple either.

Although I enjoyed the series, I can say it was quite as good as the Kate Shugak series–and I came in on the middle of that series. Nevertheless, it was a very nice escape, and I liked Liam's complexity. He's likable despite being quite flawed.

Published by Gere Donovan Press

Rating: 7/10

The Collected Short Stories (2013)

collected-short-storiesI first came across Dana Stabenow as the editor of an anthology of fantastical mysteries. From there, I picked up her Kate Shugak mysteries, although I fully admit I have only read the books that come AFTER The Incident.

I've actually read most of the Kate Shugak short stories in this collection, but that's okay, because there were stories I hadn't read.

And I love short stories.

Perhaps my favorite story was the tale of the Grosdidier brothers, "Conspiracy".

It opens thus:

FOUR BROTHERS, FOUR MEN born one each year for four sequential years, before their parents figured out how babies were made and Took Steps. They were named, in order, Matthew, Mark, Luke and Peter, because their mother refused to burden a child with the homonym for toilet, upon which her loud, rowdy and profane brother had just congratulated her. Her husband, a faithful Presbyterian who disliked his brother-in-law anyway, remonstrated that this upset the gospellian design decided on before the birth of their first son, but she remained obstinate. They compromised on Peter, upon being informed of which her brother then spake aloud and at length on euphemisms for male genitalia, until Peter's father had more than words with his brother-in-law in the alley out back of the Ahtna General Hospital. A faithful Presbyterian, he wasn't a pacifist.

This story isn't particularly a mystery, it's just a peek into life, and I simply love it.

There are also two Liam Campbell stories, which are interesting, but not my favorites, a Star Svensdotter Short Story, which I skipped, because I don't life SF, several Alaska short stories, which I really enjoyed, and closed with two fantasy stories, which were quite good coming from someone who doesn't write or read fantasy.

If you'd like an introduction to the Kate Shugak stories, I highly recommend this collection.

Published by Gere Donovan Press

Rating: 8/10


Powers of Detection (2004) edited by Dana Stabenow

I like fantasies. I like mysteries. So… "Stories of Mystery and Fantasy" sounds like a good thing. Plus Charlaine Harris has a Sookie Stackhouse short story, and that had to be a good thing.

Well, it was an okay thing.

The Charlaine Harris story was good. In "Fairy Dust," Sookie has to figure out who killed Claudine's sister, Claudia.

Having read Anne Perry's fantasy before, I skipped "The Judgement" entirely. She may write good mysteries, but what fantasy I've read has been not good.

I liked Jay Caselberg's "Cairene Dawn" even though I caught onto where he was going with it. It was fun and amusing. Anne Bishop's "The Price" was an interesting story. The setting and the world were strange, but the story was still fascinating.

I also liked Simon R. Green's "The Nightside Needless to Say," which was a quick read, and in the hard-boiled vein, which I enjoy when done well. John Straley's "Lovely" was interesting as well, seeing as how it was written from the point of view of a crow.

The other stories were for the most part okay. I didn't like "The Death of Clickclickwhistle" too much, but it was science fiction rather than fantasy, and that was the part I didn't care for, rather than the mystery.

Publisher: Ace

Rating: 5/10

Unusual Suspects (2008) edited by Dana Stabenow

I own and read Dana Stabenow's first fantasy/mystery anthology, Powers of Detection and found it a mixed bag. But when I saw Unusual Suspects and saw it had stories from Sharon Shinn & Simon R. Green, I knew I would have to have this anthology.

In general, I enjoyed it more than the first anthology. Unlike the first anthology, the Sookie story was not on of my favorites. I fear I'm becoming annoyed by Sookie. Hopefully the next book I get will repair my goodwill towards her. And I didn't dislike the story, I simply didn't care one way or the other about it. The primary mystery itself was actually interesting, but I suppose I felt like the story wandered all over the place; perhaps I like my short stories to be a little tighter. But again, it wasn't bad. It just wasn't as good as other short stories I've read by Charlaine Harris.

The Dana Stabenow story was odd, and actually felt like it belonged in the MZB Sword & Sorceress anthology. There were a few things that frustrated me, the first being that if individuals are being sent to dispense the King's Justice, don't you think they'd know just s teeny-tiny bit about the area they're visiting? I was also somewhat disconcerted by the partners who seemed to know each other not at all. Weird. Although I'm not sure I believed the resolution, it was still interesting.

I quite liked Sharon Shinn's story, "The House of Seven Spirits." A woman moves into a house with seven ghosts, and eventually tries to figure out why they're all tied to the house. There's something refreshing about a woman who isn't the least bit frightened by moving into a house full of ghosts, and who acts rationally in response to their existence.

The other "haunted house" story, Laurie R. King's "The House" would have been better had I not read a very similar Charles de Lint story. There was even a similarity between the storytellers in the stories, with their primary difference being age. (Mind you, the Charles de Lint story wasn't a haunted house story. It was the twist that was the same in both stories.)

"Spellbound" by Donna Andrews was a very good story that I thoroughly enjoyed, once I realized that it wasn't going to have the apprentice being all in love with the magician with whom she works (it had that feel initially, so I was a bit wary starting out). The mystery was good, I liked the characters, and the tiny twist at the end–even though I saw it coming–was very amusing.

Another favorite story was Simon R. Green's "Appetite for Murder." Even though I saw some of the clues, I ended up wasting brain power trying to remember bits and pieces about Ms. Fate and Tommy and Larry Oblivion, and so was surprised at the end, even thought the pieces were there all along. And shockingly for a Simin R Green story–no one seemed to describe anything as appalling.

If you're a fan of fantasy mysteries, this anthology is a good introduction to some authors I particularly like, and although it had some weak spots, was better than its predecessor.

Publisher: Ace

Rating: 7/10

At the Scene of the Crime (2008) edited by Dana Stabenow

At the scene of the crimeI first stumbled across Dana Stabenow when I picked up a fantasy/mystery anthology she edited. After a second anthology, I discovered she was primarily a mystery write, and so picked up her Kate Shugak series. Which I absolutely loved. So I found myself interested when I discovered a forensic crime anthology.

I actually am not familiar with most of the writers, which caused me to put this on my wishlist instead of buying it outright. However, when I ended up getting two copies for Christmas, I decided it was a sign I should read the anthology.

As with all anthologies, I liked some stories better than others. Unlike some anthologies, there were not any stories I hated, so that's always good.

The main character in Brendan Dubois's story "A Trace of a Trace" is newly retired, but the detective in a perplexing case asks him to help out on a case where they think someone has gotten away with murder. I found the mystery and murder quite interesting–perhaps the perfect murder, so I was curious to see how they thought they might catch the murderer.

"Five Sorrowful Mysteries" by Julie Hyzy was another story I particularly liked. The story begins with a woman doing an autopsy, and ends with her husband the detective making the arrest, but I particularly enjoyed how their putting together of the evidence was almost accidental.

"The Retired Arsonist" by Edward D. Hoch was a good story, and although I didn't necessarily buy the resolution of the mystery, I enjoyed the characters andthe story nevertheless.

"Occam's Razor" by Maynard F. Thompson was another particularly good story. The murder is related to a somewhat indifferent reporter, who is interviewing the retired medical examiner, and gets the case that started him on his path in police work.

All in all, it's an interesting collection.

Publisher: Running Press Adult

Rating: 7/10

Wolfsbane and Mistletoe (2008) edited by Charlaine Harris & Toni L. P. Kelner

Publisher: Ace