The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon)'s Reviews > A Cold Day For Murder

A Cold Day For Murder by Dana Stabenow
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's review
Oct 14, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: good-read, kindle-book, suspense

1.Plot – Kate Shugak left the DA’s office over a year ago after a bust went bad. She’d gone to the home of a child abuser and come out with her throat slashed, leaving the man’s body gutted on the floor behind her. She’d resigned from the D.A.’s stable of investigators by pinning her letter to the door with the knife she’d used to take out the bad man.

For fourteen month’s she stays away from town, living in the rugged Alaska wilderness. She makes do by leading tours every now and then and picking up other odd jobs. Her once beautiful singing voice cut down to a raspy growl and a jagged white scar across her neck from ear to ear where the bad man had cut her before she turned the tables on him.

A member of the Aleut tribe, Kate was raised on tribal lands and knows the area, it’s residents and the dangers better than anybody. So when a congressman’s son winds up missing in the state park and a DA’s investigator goes missing two weeks later, who do you think the FBI is going to come calling on?

It doesn’t help matters that most of her contacts and family are poaching moose and caribou and some are in jail themselves. The locals, especially her people prefer not to speak to anyone they don’t know. Since Kate is one of them, maybe they’ll talk to her? Maybe they’ll shoot at her. Maybe they’ll do both. At least she’s got her half wolf, half husky dog to back her up, Mutt, because otherwise if she sees her ex-partner Jack, she’ll probably shoot him.
Kate Shugak – tough as nails, beautiful, native American Indian with a touch of Russian heritage and more than a few scars, but only one you can see.

There really isn’t another character on the same tier as Kate. All others, though important, are supporting cast. The most interesting ones are her grandmother, Jack-her ex partner and Able, her second cousin and adopted father.

I should also mention that the tribe themselves works as a character in a collective way. Stanbow does a wonderful job of describing the plight of the once proud Aleuts in the modern world. While struggling between traditional old world values and modern needs the tribe is infused with character all their own and all the eccentricities of those who inhabit the great white north.
3.Action: As an Action tale, this book let me down. Kate Shugak is a wonderful action heroine in the making but Stanbow and her publishers keep her out of any real action. The girl who, after having her own throat slit by a wicked abusive man, fights her way through gutting him with the knife he used to cut her is kept out of a combat situation? Why?

In the story, Kate’s only shot at once, falls down a mine shaft once and rides a snow mobile to town. She slaps Jack a couple of times and kicks him once but that’s the closest she gets to real danger and it’s over as fast as it comes on. Here’s a girl who runs lives alone on a mountain, leads rafting tours and works as a guide to hunting parties, hunts and traps her own food in the wild and they don’t see fit to let her have any action? Come on man!

It’s more than all that. Kate also comes across as rugged and tough. She tenses up ready to fight as if she’s used to it. She doesn’t back down from larger threatening men and that low raspy voice, though it had a tragic origin, is sexy as hell, even if it’s only written. Action was a let down here. Kate could have handled so much more.
4.Did it feel authentic? Perhaps the best part of the entire story was how authentic the Indians and the rough people who live in the North Country came across. I had the feeling that Stanbow wanted everyone to see what poverty, alcohol and addiction had done to the Aleut people and likely the other residents of the park. Even the Alaskan fall and early winter seemed authentic and cold. These weren’t Sarah Palin people (though likely they would have supported her if they were), they had all the quirks and uniqueness needed to be both endearing and troubling.

5.Overall verdict: Overall, this is a 3.5 star read. It’s plot and the murder mystery were not particularly complicated but there were a few twists and turns right up to the last minute and the clues and investigation came across as honestly done. The strength of this story came from the characters including the Aleuts and those who lived with them. Kate Shugak is a wonderfully designed and written heroine. I might have given it a 4 or higher if she’s been allowed to deal with heavier action and more intense situations.
As it is this is a better than average 3 star read. The writing is smooth and polished, the characters well thought out and well designed and Kate is fantastic.

Warnings (always warnings right?
1. There is a lot of violence alluded too in the book. Stanbow doesn’t expose the reader to gore, or gratuitus over the top violence. The level of violence as it is presented is well within the tolerance of a young adult to manage without difficulty.

2. There is some sexual situations in the book. Not too many of them and they don’t last too long but the push the envelope on decency appropriate for young adults and certainly should not be considered appropriate for children. Not to mention Kate and some of the other women in the book behave like single women in their mid to late 20s and early 30s did in the 1970s and 1980s and make no secret about their open attitude towards sex and make no apologies. It’s not a free-for-all or an orgy or even remotely deviant in nature and we don’t get the play by play. They just don’t hide it.

3. The Indian’s are painted in a very realistic light. Poverty, alcoholism and addiction, and a number of other modern problems are painted in a clear picture that is likely accurate. I found it refreshing, interesting and troubling. A few who read this might find it distressing or distracting. Again, I see this as one of the story’s strengths not a liability, but that’s me.

Recommended for: I’d recommend this for young adults to geriatric, but, despite appearances, this is not an action story. It’s a murder mystery and a “who done it.” I hope Stanbow and her publishers allow the Kate Shugak stories include more action and intense scenes in later books.

Bottom line: I liked the style and setting. I liked Stanbow’s prose and polished writing style and I loved the characters (though Kate was by far the most developed character in the story). It’s a good read that, as good as it was, could have been better. You’ll be pleased with it, enjoy it and probably, like me want to read more Kate Shugak stories in the future, but, also like me, you’ll probably see that it could have been better.
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Reading Progress

10/10/2011 page 65
33.0% "Okay, Kate Shugak is cool. She's tough and she's a good heroine, so far!"
10/11/2011 page 199
100.0% "A short but satisfying read. More later in the review."

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Mary JL SUPERB review! I have read several novels in the Kate Shugak series and some do have more action than others.

Stabenow continues to set up relationships and interactions between the characters. If read in publication order, the growth and change in the characters is to me a great strength of the books. The series is up to #18 now, and Dana Stabenow is still going strong.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) That's great news on both counts. THe moment I read Kate's discription and back story, I had her figured for tough action heroine type girl. I'll keep reading.

Thank you for the praise. (I have a 6 year old daughter who I want to read, and I'm always looking for good strong female characters so I can remember them as she gets older. (She's not ready for Kate yet, but she will be!

Again, thank you for the praise and the heads up on future books!

Mary JL Hugh: Imho, possibly the publishers were unsure how Kate would be perceived, so maybe Stabenow had to go slowly at first. As the series progressed and became more popular, Stabenow's became more "at home" with her characters, I feel.

But her books remain strong on characterization, regardless of the action level.

The Pirate Ghost (Formerly known as the Curmudgeon) I'll keep reading then. The Kindle Price is low so that's a god thing.

And I believe that she probalby wanted more action and more intense situations for Kate, but the Publisher's held her back. Too many of them think on a formulaic basis that is a bit schauvinistic. You know "Girls can't be fighters" or something like that.

I hope she gets to break out of that mold.

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