Dana Stabenow

Kate Shugak - Private Investigator, Niniltna, Alaska

"A Deeper Sleep"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky FEB 3, 2007)

As Jim turned the Blazer around to head back to Kate’s homestead, she said, “What’s your prediction? On the verdict?”

“I stopped guessing jury verdicts after my first case, Kate.”... "So, I don’t predict verdicts. The game is rigged, all right, but in this case the house doesn’t win often enough. It’s discouraging enough without letting your hopes ride on it, too.”

A Deeper Sleep by Dana Stabenow

Kate Shugak is the heroine of A Deeper Sleep, Dana Stabenow's fifteenth novel in this long-running and successful series. Kate is a "120-pound package of strength, and courage and intelligence and humor" who, after spending five years as an investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney's office, went into the PI business for herself. A tough woman with a soft heart, she is the adoptive mother of fourteen-year-old Johnny Morgan, the son of her dead lover, Jack. Kate is related by blood to a large number of the residents of Niniltna, Alaska, where much of the action takes place. Kate is a person of fierce independence and integrity, as well as a passionate advocate for the underdog. A particular target of her antipathy is Louis Deem, a handsome sociopath who targets young women, whom he batters, molests, and rapes with impunity, somehow always managing to beat the rap. Kate, and her sometime lover, Alaska State Trooper Jim Chopin, hope to put an end to Deem's winning streak.

Read ExcerptStabenow's depiction of the Alaskan wilderness is magnificent. With gorgeous descriptive writing, she places the reader in the middle of the "Park," whose residents are known as Park rats. The National Park is bordered by such exotic natural and man-made boundaries as the Quilak Mountains, surrounded by a hundred glaciers, the Gulf of Alaska, known as the Mother of Storms, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Much of this area is navigable only by plane, and a gentleman named George Perry runs the Chugach Air Taxi service to help inhabitants and visitors get around this enormous territory. The author's keen sense of time and place (she includes a brief but fascinating section on Alaskan history) and her knowledge of the quirky characters who inhabit this remote terrain imbue her Shugak novels with a unique flavor. Here, people still hunt caribou, moose, and mountain goats, and fishermen harvest salmon that run up every stream. Some Park rats believe that there is still gold to be mined for those clever enough to find it; they dream of that one big strike that will set them up for life. For unwary squatters, tourists, and extreme sports enthusiasts, Alaska can be a dangerous place that has cost many careless people their lives. Kate cynically calls this "Suicide by Alaska."

A Deeper Sleep works on various levels. Sabenow touches on the lives of a variety of colorful characters: Willard Shugak is six feet tall, developmentally disabled, and a thorn in Kate's side. He is always getting into trouble, especially when he hangs around with the aggressive and arrogant Louis Deem. Howie Katelnikof is another of Deem's hangers-on who dances to Louis's tune and provides him with convenient alibis. Jim Chopin, the aforementioned state trooper, is in love with Kate, but he is reluctant to commit to a long-term relationship. Bobby Clark is a double amputee, courtesy of Vietnam. He has started over with his wife Dinah, his baby daughter, and work as a broadcaster and observer for the National Weather Service. A new family, the Smiths, consisting of a mother, father, and seventeen offspring, has purchased forty acres of land on which they plan to build a house. There is some doubt about their legal ownership of the property and their plans for its use. To make matters more complicated, one of the Smith's daughters, Abigail, falls in love with Louis Deem. She refuses to heed those who warn her that Deem is not the charming and considerate man that he pretends to be. One of the most appealing elements of the book is Kate's relationship with Mutt, her half-Husky, half-Arctic gray wolf; Mutt is as attuned to Kate's moods as any human being could ever be.

Stabenow sensitively explores the deep cultural roots of Alaska's Native Americans. The elders have been pressuring Kate to take her place as head of their association, which she has steadfastly refused to do. Kate's tribal community consists of 173 shareholders, all of whom are related by birth or marriage. They "tended to be "suspicious of authority, and united as one their determination to retain their cultural identity." However, they agree on very little, and the elders are hoping that Kate will mediate between the warring factions and lead them into a prosperous and secure future.

The considerable suspense in the novel is generated by Louis Deem's misdeeds, Kate and Jim's mating dance, three murders, and the diverse subplots that the author juggles with admirable expertise. A Deeper Sleep has something for everyone: scenic vistas, a well-crafted mystery, crisp dialogue, romance, and serious themes about the environment and the rights of Native Americans. All of this neatly fits into 256 streamlined pages. The ending has an intriguing twist, with the promise of more excitement to come in the next installment. My only quibble is that the romance between Jim and Kate is a bit jejune, with the pair of them acting more like lovesick teenagers than mature adults. However, Stabenow's novel has a great deal to recommend it; she makes Alaska a most enjoyable place to visit.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 27 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from A Deeper Sleep at MostlyFiction.com

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Kate Shugak Series:

Liam Campbell Series:

Star Sevensdotter Series:

Stand-alone Thriller:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Dana StabenowDana Stabenow was born in Anchorage, Alaska in 1952 and was raised on a 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. She graduated fro Seldovia High School in 1969 and received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Alaska in 1973. She worked her way through college as an egg grader, bookkeeper and expediter for Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods.

After college she worked for a summer and took her savings on a four-month backpacking trip to Europe. When she came back, the construction had begun on the TransAlaska Pipeline and she made a lot of cash.

But when she turned 30, she enrolled in the UAA's MFA program and graduated in 1985. She sold her first book in 1990, which hit the market with a thud. Her second novel (and the first in the Kate Shugak series, won the 1993 Edgar Award.

She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

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