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A Grave Denied    by Dana Stabenow order for
Grave Denied
by Dana Stabenow
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Once again readers get the opportunity to spend quality time with Kate Shugak in the latest Dana Stabenow mystery, A Grave Denied. Number 13 in the Shugak series, this features the usual varied cast of eccentric characters, the Park Rat residents of Alaska's park land.

Kate is safely back in the park now and mostly recovered from the traumatic loss of her long-time lover Jack Morgan. Jack's son Johnny lives with her, casting Kate in a new parental role. Johnny is on a school field trip to a nearby glacier when they stumble on the corpse of Park handyman Len Dreyer. Since many of the Park residents tend to hibernate in the winter along with the bears, no one is sure when Len was last alive, and the partly frozen state of his corpse makes it hard to tell.

Kate is drawn into the mystery when State Trooper Jim Chopin asks for her help, since she knows everyone in the Park. Complicating their joint investigation are Kate's confused feelings about Chopin, who clearly lusts after her. Soon after Kate starts asking questions, her cabin is torched and burns to the ground, leaving Kate and Johnny homeless. Poor Kate once again has something monumental to grieve for, since the cabin was built by her grandfather and contained all her well-loved possessions.

But Kate persists in her investigation and discovers sordid facts about Dreyer's past. The book proceeds at a leisurely pace, which might be annoying in another, lesser mystery. However, the Park setting, descriptions of life where flush toilets and electricity are not taken for granted, and of course the pleasure of independent, feisty and opinionated Kate's company, reward the patient reader. Not as enjoyable is the dragged-out Kate-Chopin 'will she or won't she?' relationship.

Fortunately, the mystery eventually comes to the forefront of the book and reaches a satisfactorily gruesome conclusion. Though A Grave Denied is not one of Stabenow's best, even her mediocre books are still a giant step above many other mysteries, and definitely worth reading.

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