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Bookends: Murder Down Through the Years October 24, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Murder Down Through the Years

By Dan Davidson

August 29, 2012,   Star, Aug. 31/12

– 783 words –

Though Not Dead

By Dana Stabenow

St. Martin’s Paperbacks

461 pages

$9.99

When last I met Dana Stabenow in Skagway three summers back I had just reviewed one of her Liam Campbell mysteries. She thanked me kindly and requested that next time I tackle one of her newer books. I hadn’t noticed that Liam’s adventures were on hiatus (though the preview of the next Kate Shugak novel in the back of this book has him as one of its characters) and had been treating myself with his adventures as a change after having read the first ten Shugak books.

So here I am, jumping seven books past where I left off, suddenly discovering Kate’s lover, Jack Morgan, is dead and that she has begun seeing Chopper Jim in what seems like a pretty serious relationship. Worse, Old Sam Dementieff, about whom I didn’t recall that much detail, has died and her foster son, Johnny, has grown up amazingly.

It was almost like starting out with a series I’d never read before, but the Park, and the Alaskan setting kept me grounded, and the way she put the story together told me everything else I needed to know.

This is a mystery novel with several layers, one of which is the life story of Old Sam, beginning with the flu epidemic of 1918, before he was even a gleam in his father’s eye. Sam lived to a ripe old age and had a life that very few people knew the details of, back to and including the secret of his parentage. We return to Old Sam’s story every few chapters throughout the book, including a portion that is supposed to have been written by Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon and other stories), who Sam met during World War Two while they were both serving in the army in Alaska.

(This is one of those unusual mystery novels that has a short list of a dozen reference books at the end of it. From the note there I’d say that some of the ideas for this novel have been rattling around in Stabenow’s noggin for many decades.)

When Sam died he left almost all his land and property to Kate, and named her as the executor of his will to distribute the rest of it. It was while packing up his books that things began to go awry. Waking up with two black eyes from being whacked on the side of the head with a piece of firewood was Kate’s first clue that she was in for trouble. Before too long there’s a murder to be solved and Kate has been run off the road in the middle of a snowstorm, a further indication that it seems to be personal.

Meanwhile, Jim has had to return to California to attend his father’s funeral, and deal with some other unexpected family developments. It seems there are some mysteries to be solved in his past also. Indeed, his quest is a bit like the one that Sam went through when he was about the same age. This s the smallest thread in the tapestry of this novel, but it is interesting.

Sam left Kate a few clues as to what she needed to look for. One was the cryptic instruction to find his father. Another was the legend of a missing Russian Orthodox triptych icon, stolen before he was born. The other, the one that people seem to keep coming after her for, is a map, one that appears to show the locations of number of gold claims, all of which are located within the tract of wilderness property that is part of her inheritance from Sam.

Somehow all of this is also tied into the machinations of a man that Kate had captured and put it prison a few years earlier (in one of those books I haven’t read yet). This man is still in prison (though awaiting an appeal of his sentence with great optimism) but has clearly managed to mastermind a plot to find Old Sam’s hidden treasures – whatever they may be. He is not the only one looking though, and the fact that there seem to be two sets of bad guys does serve to drag quite a few red herrings across the trail.

Checking things out, it doesn’t seem to matter a lot whether Stabenow’s books are in actual physical print these days. I’ve picked up one of the earlier books I missed as an eBook and another as an audio book. I expect to enjoy that one while driving around Nova Scotia next month.

-30-

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