RogerBW's Blog

A Night Too Dark, Dana Stabenow 07 July 2015

2010 mystery, seventeenth in the series about Kate Shugak, part-time private investigator in a national park in Alaska. The gold mine has come to the Park, and that's changing everything; but murder is still murder.

A series of books this long can go one of three ways. It can become tedious, retreading previous subjects until it's no longer fun; it can keep doing the thing it's doing, but so well that it's still enjoyable if perhaps something of a guilty pleasure; or it can change emphasis and set off to do something new. This series is definitely taking the third option, and from the early tales of Kate Shugak, Private Investigator, it's now clearly setting out to tell the story of Kate Shugak, Reluctant Political Leader.

The bulk of the first half of the book is about this, in fact, reminding us of well-known characters and locations from previous books (going to some trouble not to spoil their mysteries, which leaves things a bit strained at times) and commenting on how they're being changed with the influx of miners and their money. For example, the local air taxi service has more and newer planes than it did, but it's concentrating on moving miners back and forth to the site, and the old rough and ready service that the locals were happy with just isn't there any more. The second half gives a bit more time to the mysterious deaths that are its nominal purpose, but if I'd read this just for the murder mystery I'd have been disappointed.

Especially since, after a burst of revelations that answer the majority of the questions, everything gets dropped for several months with no particular sense of urgency. That may be plausible, when there isn't a definite case to be followed up (the remaining death might have been an accident), but it's not the sort of thing a conventional fictional detective would do.

No, what this book is mostly about is the ongoing story of Kate, coming to terms with the blighting effect of the gold mine (which isn't even in production yet, just surveying) and her own attitudes towards it. She's been living in this poor place, where everyone makes do and mends, and that poverty is ending, which is good… but at the cost of destroying the spirit of the place. Most of the people in the Park are either thoroughly for the mine and its money, or thoroughly against its expected environmental effects; nobody else seems to be trying to balance the costs.

It's all pretty slow-moving and lacking in action, but if you find the story compelling that isn't a problem. I always say "don't start the series here", but in this case it's especially true: there are brief reminders of who various people are, but they're pretty minimal, and much of the emotional impact will be lost if they aren't characters you've known for a while. Followed by Though Not Dead, and the end of this contains several bits of setup for it.

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