REVIEW: A Cold Day for Murder – Kate Stabenow

A Cold Day for Murder Book Cover A Cold Day for Murder
Kate Shugak #1
Dana Stabenow

Somewhere in twenty million acres of forest and glaciers, a ranger has disappeared: Mark Miller. Missing six weeks. It's assumed by the Alaskan Parks Department that Miller has been caught in a snowstorm and frozen to death, the typical fate of those who get lost in this vast and desolate terrain. But as a favour to his congressman father, the FBI send in an investigator: Ken Dahl. Last heard from two weeks and two days ago.Now it's time to send in a professional. Kate Shugak: light brown eyes, black hair, five foot tall with an angry scar from ear to ear. Last seen yesterday...

Kate Shugak is a fairly volatile character. The 5ft 1″ spitfire is a native Aleut, Private Investigator who knows the Alaskan wilderness better than anyone else. When the local authorities can’t find the answers, they brave the icy demeanour of reclusive Kate.

In A Cold Day for Murder Shugak investigates two disapearances in her small hometown. Facing small-town suspicion and gossip-mongering, she slowly finds the truth. Her quirky Husky/Wolf mix, Mutt, acts as quite the animated sidekick and bodyguard, as Kate breaks hearts and busts lies left, right and centre.

From the get go, Stabenow’s talent at describing the landscape and lifestyle of the Alaskan wilderness is apparent. Throughout the book, she sets the scene in a way that brings the surroundings to life, and her passion for the culture is evident.

At times, it almost seems that the characters and the mystery are secondary to the illustrative descriptions and a peek into the lifestyle of people who are cut off from the rest of the world for six months of the year. While this focus on surroundings and community was fascinating, and did go towards explaining why people acted as they did, the novel could have benefited from more detail in the development of characters and the mystery itself – which was, after all, what the story was based around!

I enjoyed the book, and found the ending a surprise (which was great, as I often pick the endings of crime novels early on). However, upon reflection, the plot was a little weak. It was Stabenow’s ability to transport the reader to the Alaskan wilds that saved it, and made the book a worthwhile read.

If you are after a crime novel with an intricate plot, and many twists and turns, perhaps this isn’t the book for you. But if you are interested in a book that draws you into a very foreign culture, with some light mystery on the side, then why not give it a try? The e-book only cost a few dollars on iTunes, and you can get the paperback for a good price from Amazon or the Book Depository. I have downloaded and read the next book in the series the day after I read the first – so that’s saying something!

I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s read this book, and find out what they thought about it!

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You Belong to Me – Karen Rose

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“You Belong to Me” sounds like a trashy romance novel, but don’t let that put you off. In actuality, it is a crime novel. It revolves around the story of a young girl, who, years ago, was beaten and raped while onlookers did nothing. Now, those onlookers are, one by one, being murdered. Set in Baltimore, a homicide detective and forensic pathologist must follow the trail to find a killer who is taunting them, and always seems to be one step ahead.

Karen Rose - You Belong To MeI picked this book up, and didn’t put it down for four hours. That may not seem like much, but seeing as I started it at midnight, reading through to 4am was impressive. This was a notch above your typical catch-a-killer book. Starting out, the reader immediately garnered a pretty good idea of what the bad guys’ motive was, but over the next few hundred pages, the twists and turns Rose used kept the plot riveting. The different threads of the story combined slowly, without driving the reader insane.

Rose avoided numerous cliches; Lucy the pathologist could have been just a pathologist with a secret, and in many other books, that’s all she would have been. However, in this book, Lucy was also a black-leather-wearing, violin-playing, mysterious pathologist. A random, but interesting, extra layer to her character. Not only were the characters full of background depth but all the extra information was somehow relevant to the plot, making it all that much better.

Rather than weigh the reader down with complicated criminal procedures, or an overly-detailed backstory, Rose managed to keep the pace of the story fast and flowing; you were drawn into the plot and carried along with the characters, discovering as they did, rather than fighting to keep up. I will admit, the romance-sounding title was not entirely off base – somehow, among murders and break-ins, the characters found time for some fairly intense moments. But they were well-written, so didn’t detract from any crime solving!

I’ll admit, towards the end, things started getting a little slow… but the story was so good that I almost didn’t notice. Plus, all the loose ends were tied up neatly, and I love that. Recommended! Buy a copy cheaply (and with free postage!) here.

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The Litigators – John Grisham

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The Litigators - John Grisham
A little behind the eight ball, I’ve never read a John Grisham novel. So, I had high expectations when I picked up The Litigators – and I wasn’t disappointed. Grisham has made what could be considered a very dry topic into a page-turner, with some humour thrown in for good measure. Not an easy task, when your subject matter includes in-depth research, client interviewing, and filing numerous court documents.

The novel centres around the ‘boutique’ (re: dodgy) law firm of Finley & Figg. Oscar Finley and Wally Figg essentially spend their time chasing ambulances, and waiting for their ‘big break’, while bickering like school children over client fees, ethics, and whether or not advertising on bingo cards is a good idea. They look set to spend another decade scraping through, until David Zinc waltzes through their door, blind drunk. David was, until ten hours earlier, a lawyer at one of the top firms in the city. However, that morning, he’d had an epiphany and realised that being on the fast (and exhausting) track was killing him – so he’d walked out and spent the rest of the day at a bar. When a drunk David sees Oscar and Wally in action, he knows where he wants to start his legal career over again.

Not long after David arrives, Wally stumbles upon what he believes is the big break they’ve all been looking for. Popular drug ‘Krayoxx’ is suspected of causing heart attacks in its patients, and suing the pharmaceutical company could mean millions for Finley & Figg. All Wally needs to do is find a few clients who are willing to sue, and then he can ride the coat tails of the national class action all the way to fame and fortune. But, of course, nothing is ever that simple, and the trio of lawyers are soon in way over their heads.

Grisham managed to make this novel a page-turner, predominantly because of the interesting, though not always likeable, characters. Where David is a straight-laced family man, with an idealistic view of life outside of a giant corporate law firm, Wally is a schemer always looking to make money, and Oscar is like a strict father figure who is constantly exasperated about Wally’s antics. The storyline was good, but it was somewhat predictable that Wally’s plan wouldn’t go off without a hitch, so I wouldn’t really consider it a legal thriller, as the cover said it would be. That said, I couldn’t put the book down because I really wanted to know whether they’d manage to wriggle out of all their troubles.

As a lawyer-to-be, I was particularly interested in this storyline. With no real idea of what being an actual lawyer in a class action is like, I enjoyed reading about life in the ‘real’ legal world. Yes, it was a fiction novel, and Australian law isn’t exactly like what we see on American TV, or in American books, but it still makes the profession look exciting and worthwhile. After five years of writing essays and attending lectures, it’s reassuring to think that our careers may be something like those of the lawyers at Finley & Figg… though hopefully less chaotic.

If this book piques your interest, you can get it cheaply (and with free postage!) here.

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