My husband came across this author about six months ago and has steadily worked his way through her complete output, which is considerable – her twentieth book in this series, Bad Blood, was released in February. I’ve a backlog of books to complete but when I was recently away for a few days, I downloaded A Cold Day For Murder.
Somewhere in the hinterlands of Alaska, among the millions of sprawling acres that comprise “The Park,” a young National Park Ranger has gone missing. When the detective sent after him also vanishes, the Anchorage DA’s department must turn to their reluctant former investigator, Kate Shugak. Shugak knows The Park because she’s of The Park, an Aleut who left her home village of Niniltna to pursue education, a career, and the righting of wrongs. Kate’s search for the missing men will take her from self-imposed exile back to a life she’d left behind, and face-to-face with people and problems she’d hoped never to confront again.
As you may have gathered from the blurb, there is a lot here that sounds very familiar – a gutsy heroine with a troubled past who finds herself compelled to take on a case. What makes this whodunit offering stand out from the crowd is the setting. Alaska. And while Stabenow writes a reasonably effective protagonist and an entertaining plot – the engine that drives this story is the setting. Immediately we are presented with a landscape as nearly alien as some of the science fiction and fantasy settings I’m so fond of – in a setting such as this, no one can forget their surroundings. It drives the way everyone behaves and goes about their daily lives. It creates unique problems and pleasures that the rest of us cannot access.
Stabenow’s depiction of daily Alaskan life is pin sharp and rings with authenticity as she was brought up in that part of the world. Kate Shuguk, the protagonist, is a member of the local ethnic tribe, who went away and has returned and through her viewpoint, Stabenow not only gives us an entertaining adventure set in one of the wilder parts of the world, she also gives us a brief insight into the options open to a small underclass of people, whose history and geography have immediately ringfenced their opportunities. Popular genre fiction doesn’t often manage to give us these insights. While Stabenow’s first priority is clearly to provide a well-crafted story, as she mentioned in a recent Radio 4 interview, people’s impressions are that Alaska is a pristine wilderness where inhabitants can somehow commune with Nature. The reality is a whole lot more complicated and messy, as Stabenow suggests.
So, given that the backdrop and environment are the stars in this story and series – does Stabenow manage to craft a suitably complex supporting cast and plot? Yes, she does. Her writing style is straightforward and she uses limited omniscience, rather than fully character-led POV. If she’d set the stories in Chicago or New York, I don’t think she would have got away with it, but given the backdrop and her ability to provide a vivid description without holding up the action, she manages to pull it off. I’m certainly up for diving into the next book in this series.