Book Review - "Though Not Dead" by Dana Stabenow

"Though Not Dead" is the 18th book by Alaskan native Dana Stabenow featuring Kate Shugak.  If you like mysteries, especially those who feature a main character who grows through her experiences, you can't get better than this series, set in Alaska with Kate, a trained investigator who battles her past, her Aleut Native heritage and murderers aplenty.  In recent books, Kate has mellowed and come to terms, mostly, with the machinations of her dead Emaa (grandmother) and her Aunties, who are living legends in the Park, a generic National Park set in Alaska, home to Aleuts, Tlingits, gold miners, oil men, Park Rangers and Alaskan State Troopers, trappers, dog mushers, hunters, fisherman and bush pilots.  Indeed, Kate enjoys a live-in relationship with "Chopper Jim" Chopin, one of the afore-mentioned State Troopers.  Neither one is ready to talk about "love" because Jim has been a notable womanizer in the Park and Kate doesn't quite believe he's in it for the long haul.  He isn't convinced either, but reading between the lines, you can tell it's going to take something very drastic to break these two up.  Their mutual heat is sizzling and satisfying. 

In this latest installment, Jim has gone to California for his Dad's funeral, where he gets to solve a mystery about his past, while Kate is enjoined by the last will and testament of her 87 year Uncle Sam Dimentieff to "find his father."  Along with Mutt, her half-wolf/half husky mix, she starts to investigate the old man's life, only to find herself the target of a would-be assassin.  The novel also features flashbacks to events 90 years in the past, starting with the Black Death, the influenza epidemic of 1918 that killed entire villages of Alaskan natives.  Those events shape the present, while Kate is one step behind a killer who's searching for something that Kate doesn't even know exists.  She inherits all of Old Sam's wordly goods which Kate finds includes a homestead claim made by her Uncle, years before.  Important clues pop up there, as well as more attempts on her life, and also in Anchorage, where she gets involved with one of Alaska's founding families.

Realistic sequences in the Alaskan bush are a hallmark of Stabenow's books and this one is no exception.  You can almost feel the cold and smell the woodsmoke and hot chocolate as Kate sets about making her Uncle's homestead livable.  The relationship between Mutt and Kate is one of my favorites in fiction, with Mutt being a most expressive partner.  His disgust, when Kate won't release him to chase a bad guy, is almost palpable.  A missing Russian icon, the flashbacks to Old Sam's life, his mystery romance with one of Kate's Aunties, the descriptions of life in the bush, all add up to another satisfying entry into this series.  I can't wait to see what Kate, Jim, Mutt and all the other characters in the Park will be up to next.  Start with "A Cold Day to Die."  Amazon just released it as a .99 cent book for Kindle.  We have almost the entire series here, along the Liam Campbell series, another series set in Alaska.  Stabenow has also edited some very good antholiges of mysteries set in the North.  Pick up any of her books.  You won't be disappointed.