RogerBW's Blog

Whisper to the Blood, Dana Stabenow 25 September 2014

Sixteenth mystery in the series about Kate Shugak, part-time private investigator in a national park in Alaska. Gold's been found on park lands, and that means mining, and that means objections from the locals. The mining company's hired a minor celebrity to be their spokeswoman. But that doesn't solve everything.

The Kate Shugak series can be split more or less into the books in which Kate leaves her home turf to deal with some sort of outside problem, and the ones in which she stays and deals with the locals. This one is definitely in the latter category, and it's not dealing with events that fit neatly within a single book, either: there's plenty of unresolved business from the previous volume, A Deeper Sleep, and not everything is wrapped up neatly at the end of this one.

There's less action than in some previous books, though it's still well-handled when it happens. Replacing it is Kate's involuntary immersion into politics: she's been drafted as chairman of the Niniltna Native Association, the governing council for Alaskan natives in the local area, and she has to get up to speed in a system which has previously been dominated by the Four Aunties… who would be quite happy to keep things that way. But their approach of the community solving its own problems seems to be having a blighting effect on the air of the place.

There's one new character who is trailed so obviously as having a Murky Past that I found myself becoming quite impatient to find out just what was going on with him: a rare misstep for Stabenow. Another is a scene of arguable rape that seems just a bit off for characters we're meant to feel well-disposed towards in the twenty-first century. The rest of the book does very well, combining excellent descriptions of place with a compelling mystery plot, even if the reader does end up having more information than any single character. There's an annoying tendency for Kate to say "aha, I've realised something" and dash away without saying what it is she's realised, which seems a rather synthetic way of generating tension.

As this series continues it becomes more intricate, with minor characters building up still more backstory, and though there were reasonable amounts of reminders of previous books I did feel slightly left behind at times (it's been five years since the last of these I read). I wouldn't recommend it as an entry point, but if you have read A Deeper Sleep this is certainly a worthy continuation.

Followed by A Night Too Dark.

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