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Literature / Kate Shugak

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Kate Shugak is the heroine of a series of mystery novels by Dana Stabenow. The first book in the mystery series, A Cold Day for Murder, won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original in 1993.

Private investigator Kate Shugak is 5 foot 1 inch tall, carries a scar that runs from ear to ear across her throat and owns a half-wolf, half-husky named Mutt. Orphaned at eight years old, Kate grew up to be resourceful, strong willed and defiant. She is tougher than your average heroine - and she needs to be to survive the worst the Alaskan wilds can throw at her.

Kate investigates murders. She's worked under cover in the Arctic Circle, gone to sea, signed up as a bodyguard, tracked missing tribal relics and she continues to fight for the Aleut way of life.

Novels in the series:

  • A Cold Day For Murder (1992)
  • A Fatal Thaw (1992)
  • Dead In The Water (1993)
  • A Cold Blooded Business (1994)
  • Play With Fire (1995)
  • Blood Will Tell (1996)
  • Breakup (1997)
  • Killing Grounds (1998)
  • Hunter's Moon (1999)
  • Midnight Come Again (2000)
  • The Singing Of The Dead (2001)
  • A Fine And Bitter Snow (2002)
  • A Grave Denied (2003)
  • A Taint In The Blood (2004)
  • A Deeper Sleep (2007)
  • Whisper to the Blood (2009)
  • A Night Too Dark (2010)
  • Though Not Dead (2011)
  • Restless in the Grave (2012)
  • Bad Blood (2013)
  • Less Than a Treason (2017)
  • No Fixed Line (2020)
  • Not the Ones Dead (2023)

Tropes in the series include:

  • Action Girl: Kate
  • Alcoholic Parent: Kate's parents were (mostly) functional alcoholics who died when Kate was quite young, leaving her to be raised by relatives. Her mother's death is the reason that Kate does not drink, and why she hates bootleggers so much.
  • Alliterative Title: Bad Blood
  • Animal Stampede: In one short story, a villain is trampled to death (probably) by a stampeding herd of walruses after he shoots at Kate while standing between them and the sea.
  • Anyone Can Die: The series does not shy away from killing off regular and recurring characters, either through natural causes (e.g. Ekaterina, Old Sam) or murder (e.g. Jack Morgan, Mac Devlin).
  • Arms Dealer: The victim in Restless in the Grave is running a black market arms operation; stealing arms from US military bases and selling them to criminals and terrorists in Asia.
  • Asshole Victim: Finn Grant, who is murdered in Restless in the Grave, is a Corrupt Corporate Executive who dabbles in blackmail and runs a black market arms dealership.
  • Attempted Rape: Kate is almost raped after being captured by the killers in Hunter's Moon. Even though her hands are bound behind her back, she manages to escape when the would-be rapist cuts her legs free, thanks to a timely distraction from Jack Morgan and some applied violence on her part.
  • Bathroom Break-Out: In Restless in the Grave, Kate escapes from the pilot she had tricked into bringing her to Adak by going to the bathroom in the bar, and then getting the waitress to direct her to the back way out.
  • Bears Are Bad News: While Kate is more than bush-wise enough to not fear bears, she has had some unpleasant encounters with them. Grizzlies are particularly dangerous, just like in Real Life.
  • Bench Breaker: In A Taint in the Blood, Kate is captured and tied to a camp bed in an old cabin. She escapes by breaking the bed till she can squirm across the floor, and then lighting a Coleman stove and using it to burn through the rope.
  • Berserk Button: Because of the circumstances of her mother's death, Kate hates bootleggers with a passion, and anyone she catches smuggling alcohol into dry communities can expect a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown at the very least.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Kate and other Native Alaskan characters occasionally run into ignorant tourists who expect them to conform to Plains Indian stereotypes. It doesn't end well for the tourists.
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: Bobby Clark runs an illegal radio station called Park Air that broadcasts on an irregular schedule and keeps changing frequencies to stay ahead of the authorities.
  • Canine Companion: Shugak is usually accompanied, and at times rescued, by her faithful husky/wolf cross Mutt.
  • Canon Welding: Restless in the Grave features an appearance from Liam Campbell, the Alaska State Trooper protagonist of Stabenow's other crime series, and characters from his books.
  • Casual Kink: The novels are completely blatant but completely matter of fact about Kate's extremely aggressive attitude in bed, and love of scratching and biting her lovers.
  • Cliffhanger: Bad Blood ends with both Kate and Mutt being shot by a disturbed teenager, with it not being stated until the next book whether either of them survived.
  • Comic-Book Time: While Kate and company have aged over the course of the novel, they have not aged as many years as have passed in Real Life. Kate's father's service in World War II—which was plausible in the early 90s, but really isn't in 2020—is no longer mentioned. No Fixed Line, the 22nd book in the series, indicates that approximately 10 years have passed In-Universe since Kate worked for the Anchorage DA's office: which was before the events of the first novel, A Cold Day for Murder. In Real Life, about 20 years have elapsed between those books.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Crazy Emmett in Hunter's Moon. A former history teacher who believed the United Nations was plotting to install a one world government, he dropped off the grid to live deep in the Alaskan bush.
  • Consulting Mister Puppet: In A Deeper Sleep, one of the suspects (a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome) keeps talking to the Darth Vader action figure he carries in his top pocket.
  • Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing: In A Taint in the Blood, Kate is captured and tied to a camp bed in an old cabin. She escapes by breaking the bed till she can squirm across the floor, and then lighting a Coleman stove and using it to burn through the rope.
  • Dope Slap: Dinah does this to Bobby and Jim to get them to stop arguing in Less Than a Treason.
  • Draft Dodging: This is part of the backstory for Bernie Koslowski, who runs The Roadhouse in the Park. He fled to Canada during the Vietnam War to avoid the draft. He kept drifting north and eventually wound up in Alaska. He has an Odd Friendship with Bobby Clarke, a Vietnam vet who lost both legs to a landmine.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: Dieter in Hunter's Moon. He is the CEO of a German company who forces his executive team to accompany him on a hunting expedition in the Alaskan wilderness. His stated goal is to bag a record antler rack, and Kate is disgusted when he only takes the head of the moose he kills, refusing to pack the meat out with him.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: In Less Than a Treason, Kate encounters a thug who thinks that wolves are extinct and don't exist anywhere outside of Disney films. He is considerably shocked when his partner is attacked by one.
  • File Mixup: Done deliberately in A Night Too Dark, where the medical files of two employees are switched to ensure that a badly mangled corpse is misidentified.
  • A Glass in the Hand: In No Fixed Line, Auntie Vi is so angry when she learns that the children rescued from the crashed plane had been sexually abused, she breaks a Pyrex measuring cup and a mixing bowl while making dinner, and Kate is sure these where not accidents.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Kate has a faded scar running most of the way round her neck where a child murderer attempted to slit her throat. She ended up killing him with his own knife.
  • Handicapped Badass: Bobby Clark epitomises this trope by having no legs yet still being a very Scary Black Man when occasionally necessary.
  • Handsome Lech: Sergeant "Chopper Jim" Chopin. He is nicknamed "father of the Park" because of his sexual proclivities (although he is actually very careful to ensure that he has no children). He is eventually transformed into a Lady Killer In Love.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: A variant. Kate's dead lover doesn't leave her with a baby... but she does wind up raising his teenage son from his previous marriage (the biological mother isn't dead; the kid just prefers Kate, and with good reason).
  • Homage: The short story "The Eyak Interpreter" is an homage to Sherlock Holmes story "The Greek Interpreter"; telling a uniquely Alaskan version of the tale.
  • Impersonating an Officer: In No Fixed Line, two criminals named Gaunt and O'Hanlon show up in the Park posing as ICE agents and attempt to abduct the two children found in the plane wreck; claiming to be taking them into custody as illegal immigrants. The twist is that Gaunt and O'Hanlon are actually former federal agents so know all of the correct procedures. Unfortunately for them, but for fortunately for the children, Kate and Jim are very familiar with law enforcement procedures and sense something is off immediately.
  • Kavorka Man: Chief Ranger Dan O'Brian is built like a fireplug with red hair and freckles, but he never lacks for female company. This is a constant source of puzzlement to Bobby Clark and many of the other male characters.
  • Lady Killer In Love: Handsome Lech Sergeant Jim Chopin. A serial philanderer, he ends up falling hard for Kate. It takes several novels for him to realise how deeply in love with her he is, and several more for him to convince her of his seriousness.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Father Smith is the proud proprietor of a forty acre homestead in the Park, along with a wife and seventeen children, all of whom live at home.
  • Never Mess with Granny: In No Fixed Line, Auntie Vi (who is in her 80s) is visited by two crooks impersonating ICE agents who attempt to abduct the two young children she has taken under her wing. Bad move.
    From the corner of her eye Kate saw Auntie Vi reach down to open a tall, narrow cupboard next to the oven where any reasonable person would have kept their baking sheets, from which she pulled out a single-barreled pump-action shotgun. She brought it up and racked it. "You will leave this house. You can walk out or you can be carried, but you will leave."
  • New Old West: Much is made of the frontier atmosphere of Alaska, and the fact that the beat of single trooper can cover 300 miles or more.
  • Noble Wolf: Kate's loyal-unto-death Canine Companion, who has saved her life on countless occasions, is a wolfdog (a wolf-dog hybrid) named Mutt.
  • Odd Name Out: The Grosdidier brothers, who serve as the Park's EMTs, are Matthew, Mark, Luke and Pete, the last, breaking a Biblical theme. And "Matthew" being the only name that's not 4 letter long (although he normally goes by 'Matt').
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. There are multiple minor characters sharing first names. And Kate's full name is Ekaterina Shugak. She was named after her grandmother Ekaterina Shugak, who was a major character in the early novels. And Kate's goddaughter (the daughter of Bobby and Dinah) is also named Ekaterina, after Kate. She normally goes by Katya.
  • One-Word Title: Breakup.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: In Less Than a Treason, Kate is relaxing in the hot spring on her homestead when a group of orienteers come crashing in on her: not knowing there was a homestead there as it is not marked on the maps.
  • Precision Crash: In Breakup, an engine falls off a cargo jet and lands on top of Kate's cabin; demolishing it completely.
  • Private Detective: Kate is a licensed private detective, who sometimes does work for the Alaska State Troopers.
  • Salvage Pirates: In the short story "Wreck Rights", Kate and Jim investigate a group of modern day 'wreckers', who cause truck crashes on a steep mountain and then loot the goods being transported out of the wrecked trucks. Kate even references Jamaica Inn by name.
  • Scary Black Man: Bobby Clark is this when he wants to be. No less scary for missing both legs below the knee.
  • Scenery Porn: Every book and short story extensively details the beauty of Alaska.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Stumbling out of bed after a marathon love making session with Jim in Less Than a Treason, Kate pulls on the first item of clothing she finds, which happens to be Jim's shirt. Due to the difference in their heights, it comes down to her knees.
  • Sled Dogs Through the Snow: One of Kate's neighbours is a professional musher who breeds sled dogs and races the the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Although Kate, like most of the natives, prefers ski mobiles, she has used dog sleds at times to get to areas inaccessible to mechanical transport.
  • Spiteful Spit: A dying Erland Bannister attempts to spit on Kate in Less Than a Treason. He is so feeble by this stage that his phlegm does not even reach her, but lands on his bed.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: An Alaskan version of Romeo and Juliet, with a boy and a girl from feuding villages, forms a major part of the plot of Bad Blood. Author Dana Stabenow says in her introduction that she always thought the play was more about the families than the lovers, and that Shakespeare could have handled the elopement far better.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: One victim in A Night Too Dark is killed when her cookie is spiked with peanut oil to induce a fatal allergic reaction.
  • Thanatos Gambit: In No Fixed Line, it is revealed that when Erland Bannister discovered that his cancer was incurable, he instigated a plan to destroy Kate after he was dead, and that could only work if he was dead. The only reasons that it fails is that a plane crash Bannister could not have predicted throws a Spanner in the Works.
  • Treasure Map: In Though Not Dead, Kate gets sent on a treasure hunt by Old Sam's will. It ultimately leads her to an actual treasure map that guides her to the lost icon.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: In Restless in the Grave, Finn Grant is murdered when the killer loosens the oil line in his plane. The killer later tries to do the same thing to the plane Kate is flying on.
  • Vomiting Cop: The new trooper in Niniltna does this when he sees a raven feasting on the soft parts of a corpse in Less Than a Treason. Kate is completely unfazed by it.
  • Weaponized Allergy: One victim in A Night Too Dark is killed when her cookie is spiked with peanut oil to induce a fatal allergic reaction.