Dana Stabenow Essay - Critical Essays


Like Dorothy L. Sayers, Dana Stabenow regards the mystery novel as a kind of fantasy in which good always wins out over evil and all mysteries are solved by the end of the book. This is generally true of Stabenow’s fiction. She tends to portray law enforcement officers in a positive light. They have flaws, but with few exceptions, they are honest and always want to do the right thing. She portrays her detectives as loners who often have problems with their relationships.

Kate Shugak Series

The Kate Shugak series originated when Stabenow visited an aunt who was moving from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to take a job elsewhere. Stabenow tried to imagine what kind of person would want to live in the park and decided to write about an Aleut whose family had been displaced by the Japanese occupation of the islands of Kiska and Attu during World War II and forced to move to the interior of Alaska. She named the female protagonist Kate, after Katherine, an Aleut who was her best friend as a child. She then met a number of people who made negative comments about the National Park Service, which provided her a plot involving the murder of a park ranger.

At the beginning of A Cold Day for Murder, the first book in the series, Kate Shugak is angry at the world. She has a severe scar where a child molester stabbed her, and she resigned from her position as an investigator a year before. In one scene, Kate attacks Jack Morgan, her former boss and occasional lover. The series continues for several books before she learns to accept who and what she is. Her relatives regard her as strange for wanting to live in the wilderness rather than with them in the village of Niniltna (population around four hundred) twenty-five miles away, but she is angry at them, too. In Blood Will Tell (1996), she is dragged, kicking and screaming, into Native American politics when someone starts to murder the members of the Niniltna Native Association board of directors. In Breakup (1997), she becomes a tribal leader. In The Singing of the Dead (2001), Shugak is head of security for a political campaign when staff members start to turn up dead.

Liam Campbell Series

Stabenow originally considered creating a series around Jim “Chopper Jim” Chopin, a state police officer who is a recurring character in the Kate Shugak series and one of Kate’s lovers. However, the publishing rights to the character were held by Berkeley, and Laura Anne Gilman, the editor who had requested the new series, had moved to ROC/Dutton. So Stabenow created...

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