29 May 2007

A pair to bet on

I've liked most of the Dana Stabenow's mystery novels that I've read. She's written 18 of them, all set in Alaska. Part of the attraction to me has been that exotic locale.

(I was, after all, a fanatic fan of Northen Exposure. I'd gotten over the Alaska thing when Men in Trees came along, but then neither was actually filmed in the great north.)

Stabenow has demonstrated to me really good story telling. She's also done humor very well in one of her novels and action/adventure very well in a couple others.

The family banking exec, my sister-in-law Mary, passed on two Stabenow books this spring. I just finished the second one and figured this is a good time to say something about them.

The first book is A Deeper Sleep. This is, for Stabenow, a run-of-the-mill story about Kate Shugak, an Alaskan native-American, educated in the outside and trying to reintegrate herself into what the community of her birth has become. The story also involves state trooper Jim Chopin, who at the time of this story, is Shugak's lover. (There's a lot of interesting back story from more than a dozen earlier novels, but it's not necessary to have read them to enjoy this one.)

The little rural community and the characters in it work for me. I grew up in a small (not as small as Niniltna, Alaska) Minnesota town, and the portrayal seems realistic. Most often in these novels, Stabenow brings in outsiders as hunters, tourists, or run aways, as bad guys or victims. This time around it's the locals who are bad guys and victims.

The tale is complex and kept me interested and guessing right up to the end. It was an enjoyable escape for the hours I read. If you haven't read any of Stabenow's mysteries, it's one you could start with. If you liked it, you could find earlier ones in the library or used book shop.

The other book Mary dropped off for us was not typical of Stabenow's novels. It's a covert weapons trade/terrorist/CIA/FBI/Coast Guard/romance. It's called Blindfold Game, and is perhaps Stabenow's attempt to break out of the mystery genre. (Her first three books were science fiction, but then she won an Edgar for her first Kate Shugak mystery.)

As a thriller/adventure story it also follows up on a couple Kate Shugak novel that were action-packed. Blindfold Game involves arms dealers in Switzerland, North Korean terrorists, a dirty bomb on a surplus Russian missile, tramp freighters, a CIA desk agent and his Coast Guard officer wife, an Alaskan FBI agent, and a Greenpeace ship.

It's a well-told story with at least two-dimensional characters. It's intriguing enough to tempt me to learn more about the arms trade and itinerant shipping. I got close to the end one evening before bed and I knew I couldn't read the ending and expect to sleep. So the book sat on the pile for several days before I finished it one early evening. Luckily I had a couple hours to let my heart stop pounding and my blood pressure to go back to normal before I wanted to sleep.

Yes, I thought it was good. It was published in January 2006, so the paperback might be on bookstore shelves now. A Deeper Sleep was published in January 2007, so look in the library for it.

These were great spring reading. They might be great summer reading too. Read one or both and add your comment to mine.

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