A Taint in the Blood
One of the best reasons to read current mysteries is Dana Stabenow,
a wonderfully talented and entertaining author who brings to each
book fascinating stories, offers an enthusiasm for her home in
Alaska, has created captivating characters, and still knows how to
make familiar folks seem interesting. I've watched Kate Shugak deal
with people, with crisis, with love and with tragedy throughout
In this story, the 14th in this never-disappointing series, things
are going well for Shugak --- perhaps too well. She's so grateful
that folks in the Park built her a new home (after hers burned
down) that people are starting to avoid her, just to get away from
her helpfulness. She's being way too helpful and cheerful,
and it's awful. A change of scene is due, and when Charlotte
Muravieff, a woman from a powerful family, comes and says, "My
mother is dying, I want her out of prison," Shugak takes on the
case --- a bit reluctantly, of course, because what exactly can one
learn from a 30-year-old murder conviction?
Kate is facing a number of problems. The mother never once
proclaimed her innocence in the horrific crime of which she was
ultimately convicted: that of setting fire to the family home and
killing one of her sons (the other was injured but survived).
Victoria has no interest in cooperating with Kate's investigation;
many other players, including powerful politicians, seem to have a
remarkable interest in Kate's work here.
State trooper Jim Chopin, a Park legend and resident hunk whom
we've watched over the years, is around to help Kate in Anchorage
--- and he is determined not to be in love with her. He has known
her for years and lusted after her, but has never told a
woman "I love you," especially a monogamous, determined one like
Kate. Hah. Good luck.
I admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable at times watching Kate
being coy and flirtatious. She also seems a little too perfect at
times; she's a wise and smart woman, so I don't expect her to make
big mistakes. But perhaps she's a tad too sure of herself. I also
admit that I wondered very early on who Victoria was covering for;
that's not a giveaway of the plot --- most of us would wonder ---
but it's another sign that maybe I read too many mystery
I also miss Johnny Morgan in this tale. Understandably, as it takes
place in Anchorage rather than at Kate's home in the Park, he can't
be around, but he's a cool kid and at times helps explain things in
his clear, adolescent "seen it all" way. Here's a young man whose
mother hates him and whose father, Kate's lover, is dead; his
insights into people are refreshing because there's little
sentiment about him (something I think he learned from Kate).
But nothing, certainly not these minor carps, takes away from the
major strengths of A TAINT IN THE BLOOD, told by one of mystery
fiction's most talented and creative storytellers.
Reviewed by Andi Shechter (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 23, 2011