Narrator: Marguerite Gavin
Series: Kate Shugak #19
Published by Macmillan Audio on 2/14/12
This was a good story that will satisfy followers of the series although it lacks the emotional punch or extreme life-and-death drama of some of the previous entries. It’s suitable for new listeners but, not a surprise at book nineteen, there’s a ton of back-story that makes time spent with these characters a much richer experience. Combining protagonists from the author’s two primary series worked surprisingly well and despite not having read any of the Liam Campbell books, I felt completely at home with the characters. Marguerite Gavin’s narration was very good with the exception of moments of unusually rapid-fire delivery of the narrative sections. This shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, especially for those already familiar with the audio versions, but it’s worth sampling before buying.
When Alaska State Trooper Liam Campbell’s wife, bush pilot Wyanet (Wy) Chouinard, becomes a suspect in what may or may not be a murder, he asks Sergeant Jim Chopin for help with the investigation. P.I. Kate Shugak, who also happens to be Jim’s lover, is only too happy to have an excuse to absent herself from the Park. After serving a term as Chair of the Niniltna Native Association, she’s ready to let the new Chair take on the burden of shareholder demands and a bit of undercover work is as good an excuse as any to get out of town.
As Kate tends bar in Newenham, she begins to piece together Finn Grant’s life (and death). A pilot and the owner of Eagle Air – a fixed-base operation that provides service and support to pilots and planes – he also ran his own air transport business from a decommissioned Air Force base he bought dirt-cheap at auction. A sudden increase in income, a spurned spouse, a son with an eye on his father’s money, and the recent death of Finn’s daughter in Afghanistan mix with a town where no one has a nice word to say about him and make for an involved investigation where someone is trying to keep Kate from discovering the truth.
Although the story primarily follows Kate as she works undercover to discover whether Finn Grant was murdered, there are some alternating points-of-view that keep the listener up-to-date on what Jim is doing back in Niniltna and provide insight into Liam Campbell’s life in Newenham. The transitions between the perspectives were smoothly written and never had me wishing for a switch back to Kate. The book was peopled with the expected cast of amusing, often odd, frequently irascible and utterly picturesque characters I’ve come to expect in Stabenow’s (or maybe I mean Kate’s) Alaska and the geography of the state was a character in and of itself. The pacing was sufficient to keep my interest although I never felt any real moments of tension or anxiety around how events would resolve themselves.
There were a few small points of contention for me, the main one being that the end of the story was in no way a surprise. If there were a reader’s yearbook, I would definitely be voted “least likely to figure out the end of a mystery” but there was a give-away line relatively early on that clued me in to “who done it.” In addition, as the series has progressed I’ve become increasingly irked by the rising level of anthropomorphism Kate’s dog Mutt is given and although I realize it’s fiction, Mutt seems awfully spry for a wolf dog at the end of a normal life-span. All told, those were minor quibbles.
A lot of the relationship dynamics/tension that are present between Kate and Jim were, for obvious reasons, absent in this book. While the mystery was enough to hold my interest, I missed their interactions and didn’t feel compensated by the flashes of attraction Kate had to Liam and the more serious attraction she felt for movie star (and investor in Eagle Air) Gabe McGuire. If there’s one thing that’s crystal clear about Kate, it’s her rock-solid moral compass.
Kate, Jim, Liam, Wy… these are all well-constructed characters and regardless of where this book falls along my “like/love” continuum for this series, I enjoyed spending time with them. I got the feeling that there was ground-work being done in this book for a really spectacular showdown with a figure from Kate’s past and the intimation of that has me anxious for the next book.
Although I would qualify Marguerite Gavin’s narration as a success, I had an odd disconnect between what I heard in the performance of the narrative and how effective it was at connecting me with the story’s emotional intent. Ms. Gavin spits out portions of the narrative like she’s laying down covering fire for the dialogue, which has a somewhat more leisurely pace and is really the “hero” of the narration. The disconnect is that it wasn’t quite the stumbling block for me it would have been if this was my first experience with this series but newcomers to the audio version may want to take note. I’ve listened to this series in audio from book one (on cassette) and developed complete buy-in to her portrayal of the characters that inhabit Kate Shugak’s world so by book nineteen I wouldn’t usually notice small changes but the unexpected rapidity with which the narrative was delivered is new and startling. When combined with small pauses between words (as if for a breath) that don’t commonly have pauses in natural speech, I found myself intermittently drawn out of the story. The dialogue was excellent; Ms. Gavin is so successful at inhabiting the characters and portraying the organic back-and-forth of actual conversation that it seemed to flow effortlessly. That facility for dialogue combined with the way each character was made distinct through tone, pitch, accent, and personality made enough of the audiobook a transportive experience to call it a qualified success.