Dana Stabenow’s Though Not Dead, the latest in her Kate Shugak novels, offers another robust and exhilarating ride through the wilds of Alaska, with occasional touchdowns to the hustle of Anchorage. This time Stabenow even offers short interludes in Southern California, oasis of manicured bodies and lawns but, as Stabenow makes clear, sandy beaches and tan babes are no match for the wild beauty of both the people and the lands of Alaska.
What is so addictive about Stabenow’s books is their depth –her characters are fully realized, her plots are rich with Alaskan history and culture, and her conclusions are well-founded, with solid hints as to whodunit and why planted throughout the novel. Best of all, Stabenow’s star, private investigator Kate Shugak, is kick-ass in every sense of the phrase.
Though Not Dead focuses in on the history of Castner’s Cutthroats, a group of Alaskan soldiers who defended the Aleutian Islands against the Japanese during World War II. Dashiell Hammett was a sergeant in the Cutthroats and he plays a walk-on role in the novel, meeting up with Sam Dementieff, Kate’s uncle and a keeper of many secrets, as well as with Sam’s father, a fast-fingered ladies man who goes by the nickname “One Bucket”. The bonds between father and son, a story written by Hammett, and the future of Kate’s beloved Park (the largest national park in Alaska) all come into play when old Sam dies and the converging points of his past reignite smoldering fever for gold, fame, and power into all-out fireworks.
My only complaint about Though Not Dead is its awkward title (what does it mean?) but everything else, from page one to page 443, is just grand.
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