Though Not Dead (Kate Shugak)
by Dana Stabenow
Cover Artist: Photo: Face by Ferene Ecseki;
Trees by Kennan Ward Photography
Review by Paul Haggerty
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312559113
Date: 01 February 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Kate Shugak has had to perform a lot of unpleasant tasks in her life. And many of them have left a mark on her character, if not her person. While the current task is certainly unpleasant, one wouldn't think that it would be particularly dangerous. Being the executor for her uncle's will requires dealing with the past and wrapping up loose ends. But for Old Sam Dementieff, the sins of the past have out lived him, and those loose ends will try to ensnare Kate.
In each book in the Kate Shugak series, Kate changes, grows, and usually heals from a variety of wounds. Now, with the death of Old Sam, Kate is being even more embroiled in tribal politics; something she's been fighting against since the day she was born. It's a fight against family and tradition that has proven ... so far ... futile. But at least, as the executor of Old Sam's will, all she has to do is carry out his instructions, divvy up his worldly goods, and oversee his farewell potlatch. All in all, it really shouldn't be that difficult a task.
Old Sam's will, revised within the last month, names her as the beneficiary for all of his possessions except for one or two specially named bequests like his boat and his cabin. So Kate's first order of business is to get all the belongings packed up and hauled off. Of course things start going wrong right away. Since there's nothing of any real interest (as far as Kate knows) in Old Sam's cabin, one has to wonder just why somebody thought it necessary to sneak up and crack her over the head with a large piece of firewood.
Then to add an enigma onto the puzzle of the mystery, Kate receives one last handwritten request from Old Sam via his lawyer: "Find my father". Begin the scratching of the head. Everybody knows who Old Sam's father was ... or at least Kate thought they did. The Aunties know much, but tell little. The other elders of the village are just as circumspect when it comes to divulging the not quite so honorable details of the past. After keeping secrets for eight decades, no one is likely to open up and spill the beans to Kate just because more unpleasantness might occur.
As is usual in these novels, Kate's biggest problem is lack of knowledge. There's somebody or somebodies unknown out there that know something she doesn't, and they clearly want her out of the way. The only problem is that until she finds out what the mystery is, she has no idea who to be on the watch for, or what she shouldn't be doing.
Furthermore, Stabenow hardly ever gives us a single threaded mystery. There are always at least two mysterious things going on, and usually more. This time the action take place in multiple states, with Kate's boyfriend, Jim Chopin, off to California to deal with the death of his father, and the secrets that his family has been hiding. It also takes place in multiple times, with inserts from the past, told by a much much younger Old Sam; tales from the pre-state history of Alaska, tales of wars and plagues, tales of young people, the mistakes they make, and the lengths they go to trying to atone for things that would otherwise stay safely buried.
You don't have to have read the previous stories to be able to enjoy Though Not Dead, you'll certainly get more out of it if you have. While each stands alone, the characters grow and change. And you'll never know from book to book just what characters from an older volume are suddenly going to make a reappearance, hauling all their old baggage (and usually a dislike of Kate) along with them.