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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Covenant – Dean Crawford

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“Covenant” tells the action packed story of a discovery in the middle east – what appear to be alien bones. Thus begins a race between factions to obtain the remains for themselves, and control the release – or suppression – of the information gleaned from them. Disillusioned former war correspondent, Ethan Warner, grudgingly joins the hunt, alongside archeologist Lucy Morgan, and Detective Nocola Lopez. Threads of information slowly emerge from amidst chunks of overly technical explanation, and result in a race to save the world.

I had high hopes for this book… but was disappointed (as perhaps you can tell from my less than exuberant plot outlineDean Crawford - Covenant above). The premise of the book was sound, and Crawford had clearly done his research. However, the story was in many parts contrived. There were pages and pages of technical scientific explanation, and long-winded description of the middle-eastern conflicts, that were beyond the comprehension of your average reader. This made some of the text pretty hard to get through. Even for people like myself, who regularly read books on similar topics, and are used to wading through law text books – the epitome of heavy reading – there was just far too complicated, and unnecessary.

Cramming so much technical information in was, despite the length of the novel, at the cost of character development. I didn’t really get a chance to ‘get to know’ any character in depth, except perhaps Ethan Warner. Even then, I usually get overly attached to characters, but there was no love lost when people tried to kill Warner – which happened often. What little character development you did get didn’t lend itself to a particularly likeable main character. It’s never a good thing when you’re not rooting for the protagonist to succeed!

Another frustration was that the three storylines didn’t really overlap and interact enough until the very end; rather, it was almost like reading three separate books. Not to mention the cliqued ending that more than paved the way for the upcoming sequel.

What had the promise to be a provoking story about the possibility of finding another species in the universe and the lengths that people would go to in protecting that information, became an overly complicated big guys with guns story.

It’s possible I’ll still pick up the sequel… Ok, I’ll be honest – I’ve actually already purchased both of the remaining books in the trilogy… But I haven’t read them, which says volumes! Don’t judge me, I’m rather OCD in my need to purchase an entire series once I have a portion of it. I’d be interested to find out the answer to the mystery that is Warner’s missing fiance, but past that I have little interest in how this story unravels. If you want to give it a try, you can get a copy here. Hopefully Crawford and his editors have learned a lesson and cut the technicalities for some character development.

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