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Though Not Dead: A Kate Shugak Novel    by Dana Stabenow order for
Though Not Dead
by Dana Stabenow
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

It's hard to believe, but Though Not Dead is the eighteenth Alaskan Kate Shugak mystery - and it's one of the best yet. For those of us who've followed the series from its beginnings, Kate has become an important part of our reading lives. The previous episode ended sadly on the death of Kate's beloved uncle and mentor, 89-year-old Old Sam (Samuel Leviticus Dementieff), but his influence over her life is very far from over.

While Chopper Jim is called back to California after the demise of his father - and gradually learns what made his own childhood so desolate - Kate follows a trail left for her by Old Sam. It sends her and Mutt on a deadly treasure hunt (the prizes a priceless Russian Orthodox triptych, a huge Cross of Gold nugget and a lost Dashiell Hammett manuscript), during which she misses death narrowly on more than one occasion. Kate also uncovers secrets about her favorite Aunty (Joy) and about Old Sam's parentage, service in Castner's Cutthroats during World War II, and the great love of his life, but she is never bored. This is a welcome change as she's felt increasingly stale lately as chair of the board of directors of the Niniltna Native Association.

The story moves back and forth in time, starting with the devastating 1918 flu epidemic, during which 'Natives were infected and died disproportionately.' We see an outsider, Mac McCullough, take advantage of a Chief's daughter, seventeen-year-old Elizaveta. He and the tribe's valued (reputedly miraculous) Russian icon disappear, leaving a shunned and pregnant Elizaveta with no choice but to marry her fellow student and friend, Quinto Dementieff. Fast forwarding to the present day, as Sam's primary beneficiary, Kate inherits his cabin, his books, substantial property (including Sam's remote Canyon Hot Springs homestead) and a last request, to 'Find My Father'.

Unfortunately others are after Old Sam's treasures as well (including a vindictive old enemy) and have no qualms about collateral damage. But they soon learn that you don't mess with Kate and Mutt, or those they care about. And when Jim finally returns, the writing box his father left him provides the key to conclude Kate's quest. Unlike her heroine, Dana Stabenow has no need of any intervention to keep her series fresh; it just keeps getting better. I especially enjoyed sharing Old Sam's back story in Though Not Dead and highly recommend this episode to mystery readers. And if you're not a Kate Shugak fan yet, start at the beginning - you won't regret it.

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