Reviews by L. J. Roberts


DANA STABENOW – No Fixed Line. Kate Shugak #22. Head Of Zeus, hardcover, January 2020; paperback, February 2021. Setting: Contemporary Alaska.

First Sentence: Anna was a warm, heavy weight against his side, her eyes closed, her breathing deep, her tears drying in faint silvery streaks on her cheeks.

   Matt Grosdidier and Laurel Meganack are spending New Year’s’ Eve at Kate Shugak’s cabin bolt hole at Canyon Hot Springs. Their romantic interlude is interrupted by the sound of an engine, and the crash of a plane. What they didn’t expect to find was two young children, belted together in a seat. Further investigation reveals a body buried in the snow, and a whole lot of drugs. Meanwhile, Erland Bannister, who tried to have Kate killed more than once, has died. But why did he make her the trustee of his estate and the head of his foundation?

   Stabenow captures one’s interest from the very first sentence. Her writing is evocative and visual. It captivates, involves, and becomes real. And it moves, no long narratives here; just writing which keeps one turning the page. One also realizes just how timely are the themes of her story. But it’s the details of dealing with Alaska that make one’s eyes widen. For those who follow the series, this is an Alaska very different from the state as it was in the beginning, which only adds to the interest.

   The story is perfectly balanced between the action, the pastoral, and the wonderfully normal, human moments. The transition between these elements segues perfectly, one to the next. It’s fascinating to see how Kate’s mind works; how she walks through the possible scenarios of traps Bannister may have set for her. Her comparison of a modern minimalist office lobby, using the term “dead perfection” from a Tennyson poem and comparing it to a columbarium is identifiable.

   One can’t but love the references to other writers: Dick Francis, Ellis Peters, Damien Boyd, Adrian McGinty, John Sandford, and even Tennyson. Such things make the character seem real– “To quote the late, great Dick Francis, life keeps getting steadily weirder.” —along with references to food– “…caribou steak with loaded baked potatoes and canned green beans fried with bacon and onions.”

   Stabenow weaves the issues of poverty, drugs and government cutbacks seamlessly into the story through the conversations of the characters. She offsets that by observing the way people in the park care for one another. The plot meanders a bit between the characters and the mystery involving the children, but doesn’t life?

   There is romance and a bit of erotic heat, but it then stops before becoming too graphic. Quite satisfying is Kate’s justifiable anger at law enforcement not having gone after someone they knew was a criminal. Valid and significant points are made about the status of things without being preachy, and the suggestion of a future threat is intriguing without being an end-destroying cliffhanger.

   No Fixed Line is a great pleasure to read. It has everything a really good book should: well-developed characters, a compelling plot that keeps one turning the pages, excellent dialogue, a touch of humor, well-done suspense, well-placed twists, and a perfectly executed ending. Thank you, Dana Stabenow.

Rating: Excellent.