Not The Ones Dead: Alaskan intrigue

Some stories are as much about place and people as they are about plot. This is one such story: a love-letter to the Alaskan wilderness and to the people who comprise its variegated population. There’s a genuine threat prowling the backwoods, of course there is, but the author devotes many more words to exploring the awe-inspiring landscape than she does to the darkness of men’s souls.

All of which makes Not The Ones Dead hard to sum up in a single sentence. It’s not really a fast-paced thriller, nor a high-stakes investigation – it’s more like a densely textured rendering of this unique place at a particular time. Light, shade, love and death; the everyday reality of breadline existence on the fringes of American society where the best view in the world won’t pay the rent or feed the kids.

Against that background, menacing strangers in camo gear have been picking fights with the locals. A fatal mid-air collision might not be an accident. And a couple of loners seem to have disappeared altogether – not unheard of in the rough country, of course, but the tribal elders are starting to get concerned. And then the local watering hole is set ablaze…

The Kate Shugak series has been running for yonks and I’ve dipped in and out, here and there. She’s a veteran investigator with a solid supporting cast of tech geeks, legal advisors, romantic interest, growing-up dependents – all the accoutrements that any long-standing series inevitably accumulates – and the star of the show, a charismatic half-wolf named Mutt. The dog has in fact almost stolen the entire show.

It’s easy enough to catch up with the background if you’re new to the author but, be warned, you’ll get a rapid lesson in first-nation fault-lines and the politics of national parks. It’s almost alien to a reader in rural England, and I’m grateful to author Dana Stabenow for sharing her insights into how these worlds mesh together – and how sometimes they don’t. There’s so much more to American society than we see on the flat-screen, and it’s all here to absorb and understand. Take a deep breath of the bitterly crisp mountain air and fire up your light aircraft for the regular commute into town…

This series sits well on a shelf alongside James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux books, or Kris Lackey’s Chickasaw Nation Mysteries. I’m not sure that this is the best book to begin with, however; there’s a lot of back-story to infer and Kate herself can be quite oblique. So while Not The Ones Dead will certainly satisfy regular readers, I’d advise newcomers to start nearer the beginning of this 23 book series. You’ve got a lot to look forward to!

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Not The Ones Dead by Dana Stabenow is available at Amazon


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