Everyone knew Len Dreyer, a handyman for hire in the Park near Niniltna, Alaska, but no one knew anything else about him. Even Kate Shugak hired him to thin the trees on her 160-acre homestead and was planning to ask him to help build a small second cabin on her property for Johnny Morgan, a teenaged boy in her care. But she, the Park's unofficial p.i., seems to have known less about him than anyone.
Alaska is a place where anybody can bury his history and start fresh, and for any reason, but this particular mystery comes to light when Len Dreyer turns up murdered. His body is discovered, frozen solid, in the path of a receding glacier with the hole from a shotgun blast in his chest. No one even knew he was missing, but it turns out he's been missing for months.
Alaska State Trooper Jim Chopin asks Kate to help him dig into Dreyer's background, in the hope of finding some reason for his murder. She takes the case, mindful of the need for gainful employment as she copes with her responsibility for Johnny, a constant reminder of his father, her dead lover. Little does she imagine that by trying to provide for him she just might put him right in the path of danger.
A talented writer at the prime of her abilities, Stabenow delivers a masterful crime novel in A Grave Denied that turns out to be as much about living as it is about dying.
About the Author
Dana Stabenow is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Shugak mysteries and the Liam Campbell mysteries, as well as a few science fiction and thriller novels. Her book A Cold Day for Murder won an Edgar Award in 1994. Stabenow was born in Anchorage, Alaska and raised on a 75-foot fish tender in the Gulf of Alaska. She has a B.A. in journalism and an M.F.A. in writing from the University of Alaska. She has worked as an egg counter and bookkeeper for a seafood company, and worked on the TransAlaska pipeline before becoming a full-time writer. She continues to live in Alaska.
Read an Excerpt
A Grave Denied
By Dana Stabenow
St. Martins PressCopyright © 2003 Dana Stabenow
All rights reserved.
Yuck!" The pool of slush covered the road from snow berm to snow berm and thirteen-year-old Andrea Kvasnikof had just stepped in it up to her ankle and over the tops of her brand-new, white on white Nike Kaj. "Ms. Doogan! Ms. Doogan, my shoe's all wet!"
"This is where the leading edge of Grant Glacier was in 1778," Ms. Doogan said, standing in front of a signpost surrounded by the seventeen students of the seventh and eighth grade classes of Niniltna Public School. "Who can tell me what else happened in Alaska that year?"
"The Civil War started!" cried Laurie Manning, a redheaded virago who seemed always to be on the verge of declaring war herself.
"No, the Revolutionary War!" yelled Roger Corley, a dark-browed eighth-grader who wasn't going to let some little old seventh-grade baby go unchallenged.
"Not a war, stupids," Betty Freedman said calmly. Betty always spoke calmly, an unnerving quality in an adolescent. She didn't peer over the tops of her glasses only because she had twenty-twenty vision and didn't need them, but it was impossible not to imagine two round lenses perched on her nose, magnifying her big blue eyes and increasing her resemblance to an owl. With all that fine white-blond hair, a great snowy owl. She even blinked slowly. "That was the year Captain Cook sailed to Alaska, wasn't it, Ms. Doogan."
It wasn't a question, it was a statement of fact. "Yes, it was, Betty," Ms. Doogan said.
"He anchored in Turnagain Arm on June first," Betty said.
Ms. Doogan made a praiseworthy attempt not to grit her teeth. It didn't help that Betty knew as much history as her teacher did, and sometimes more. Ms. Doogan glanced back to see Moira Lindbeck, the one parent she'd managed to coerce along on this field trip, roll her eyes. She faced forward quickly — it would never do to laugh — and continued up the trail, moving to the gravel shoulder to miss an ice overflow rapidly liquifying in this warm spring morning. Bare green stalks of wild rice clustered together in the ditch, loitering with intent, waiting for the temperature to get high enough to burst into bud. She paused next to another signpost and waited for the class to catch up. "This is where the leading edge of the glacier was in 1867. What happened that year?"
They all knew this and they said so in chorus. "The United States bought Alaska from Russia!" Somebody turned a cartwheel, kicking muddy water all over Andrea Kvasnikof's lime green down jacket. Andrea did not suffer this in silence.
Betty Freedman waited for the furor to die down. "For seven point two million dollars."
Ms. Doogan, the breeze soft on her cheek and the heat of the sun on her hair, felt suddenly more in charity with the world and smiled down at Betty. Besides, she knew that behind her back Moira Lindbeck was rolling her eyes again. "Yes."
"Seven cents an acre."
Ms. Doogan transferred the smile to Johnny Morgan. The tallest boy in the class, with a serious brow beneath an untidy thatch of dark brown hair that fell into deep-set blue eyes, Johnny seldom volunteered information. He seemed older than the other students, and every now and then Ms. Doogan caught an expression on his face that she thought might indicate something between tolerance and scorn. She had the feeling that he was only putting up with her until the end of the school year. Indeed, he seemed merely to be marking time until the day he turned sixteen, when he could legally quit school. Which would be a pity, as Johnny Morgan was one of the brightest students she'd ever had the privilege of teaching. She'd tried to reach him all year, but while he was unfailingly polite, he remained aloof. He did his work well and got it in on time in more or less readable shape, or as readable as you could expect from a kid living in a log cabin with no electricity. He was attentive and respectful, but she was always conscious of the shield he had erected around himself, high and wide and, by her, impenetrable.
"Seward's Folly," a small voice said. Ms. Doogan looked down in some surprise. Vanessa Cox, short, slight, dressed year round in Carhartt's bib overalls with a turtleneck beneath in winter and a T-shirt in summer. It was economical, Ms. Doogan supposed, and even a practical solution to dressing a child to go out in any weather in the Alaska Bush, but every time she saw the girl she had to repress an urge to break out the crinolines, or even just a lipstick. If it weren't for the delicate features of her face and the braid of thick fine dark hair that hung to below her waist, it would have been hard to tell that Vanessa was a girl. "That's right, Vanessa," she said, smiling. "Alaska proved them wrong on that, though."
Vanessa, rarely seen to smile, gave a solemn nod. She exchanged a glance with Johnny Morgan. Here, it seemed, was one person who had managed to reach through the shield. Good for both of them, Ms. Doogan thought. Johnny Morgan was only fourteen, but if her instincts were right, here was a young man with the ability to remind any young woman, no matter how deliberately neutered by her foster parents, just how female she was. And anyone as young as Johnny was all the better for a friend. Especially given that his father had been murdered a year and half before, and that he was estranged from his mother.
Ms. Doogan moved up the trail about ten feet. It was starting to get steep and the snow on either side of the trail to get higher. At the same time they could hear the sound of running water. "The glacier was here in 1898. What happened in 1898?"
Betty opened her mouth but Vanessa beat her to it. "The Klondike gold rush."
"Very good, Vanessa," Ms. Doogan said. "Have you been reading ahead in your history book?"
Vanessa gave her solemn nod.
"And you're remembering what you read. Good job."
Betty was much too mindful of the might and right of authority to do anything so lèse-majesté as to pout, but Moira Lindbeck was close to dancing in the street. Ms. Doogan fixed her with a quelling eye, and led the way to the next signpost. "In 1914, the glacier was —"
"World War One!" shouted Laurie Manning, capering up and down in excitement. Laurie had yet to master middle-school cool. "World War One! World War One!"
There was a soldier or soldiers in Laurie's future, Ms. Doogan thought with an inner sigh, but she smiled and said, "Yes, Laurie, World War One. Eric Kizzia, if you pinch Mary Lindbeck one more time, I'm going to pinch you myself, in the same place and just as hard. Knock it off."
Eric tucked prudent hands into the pockets of his corduroy jacket and did his best to look as pure as the driven snow. His grin was impudent and dimpled and it was hard not to grin back. He'd had a crush on Mary Lindbeck since the second grade, only temporarily sidetracked by luscious upperclassman Tracy Drus-sell last year. Eric's plan had been for Tracy to flunk until Eric made it into her class, but Tracy's family had moved to Anchorage instead, and in the interim Mary had grown breasts, which had effectively cut short Eric's mourning for Tracy. It also made it difficult to keep his hands to himself. If he'd tried to hold her hand, Mary would have shoved him into the ditch with the wild rice. Ignoring her was not an option. A pinch had seemed a safe compromise.
Mary, whose awareness of the male sex had undergone a sea of change in the last year, left her nose in the air but let the corners of her mouth indent in a tiny smile. Eric saw it and it was enough. Moira Lindbeck saw it, too, and was struck dumb with terror.
Teenage hormones were bad enough, Ms. Doogan thought, as she led the class around a corner, hopping from dry spot to dry spot on the trail as they went. Teenage hormones and spring was a lethal combination. Add in a parent who had just been made aware of her child's burgeoning sexuality and Ms. Doogan thought she felt the earth tremble a little beneath her feet, in either anticipation or apprehension, she could never decide. On the whole, she thought she might skip the planned lesson on the Romantic poets. They could do with rather less talk of young men and spring at Niniltna Public School at this time of year.
The trees opened up and the snow berms melted away and a small lake filled with icebergs dissolved into weird and wonderful shapes spread out before them. Between the bergs the lake was like a mirror, reflecting the bank and the trees and the bergs and the Quilak Mountains and the sky above. She dropped a curtsy. "My class, meet Grant Glacier. Grant Glacier, allow me to introduce the seventh and eighth grade classes of Niniltna Public School."
This time the whole class rolled its eyes. She'd made them walk all the way up here, that was bad enough, but curtsying to glaciers? What next? Ms. Doogan was always doing weird stuff like that.
But she was kinda cool weird, Vanessa Cox thought. At least Ms. Doogan cared enough to get excited about what she was teaching. Vanessa shrugged out of her daypack to pull out her lunch. She sighed a little over the PB&J. Sometimes she thought it was the only sandwich Aunt Telma knew how to make. But there was also a cranberry-raspberry Snapple and a Ziploc bag full of Thin Mints, so lunch wasn't a total loss.
Ms. Doogan paced up and down at the edge of the water, talking and gesturing with what looked like a tuna fish sandwich. Her students were sprawled on the bank facing her and the lake, eating and trying to look interested. Her light olive skin was already starting to tan in the spring sun, and her short bob of fine dark hair was beginning to frizz from proximity to the glacial lake. She looked like a poodle, Vanessa decided. Moriah, her best friend back in Ohio, had had a standard poodle, a huge black dog named Matisse. Matisse was interested in and excited about everything, especially after he'd eaten a sixty-ounce bag of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate chips Moriah's mother had bought for Christmas fudge. Vanessa wondered if Ms. Doogan ate a lot of chocolate.
"Grant Glacier descends from what ice field?" Mrs. Doogan said. "Come on, guys, we talked about this in geology."
Vanessa knew the answer, but her teeth were a prisoner of peanut butter and she couldn't suck them clean in time to beat Betty Freedman to reply. "The Grant Ice Field."
"Correct. The Grant Ice Field, like the largest glacier descending from it, also named for Ulysses S. Grant, the nineteenth president of the United States."
"The eighteenth president," Betty said.
"The eighteenth, then," Ms. Doogan said amiably, "you got me, Betty. It was so named by a couple of Army lieutenants on a survey mission back in, oh, 1880, I guess it was, after the purchase anyway. They had served under Grant in the Civil War and they were probably hoping that if they named an ice field this big after their commander-in-chief that they'd get promoted."
Betty looked suspicious. She hadn't read that anywhere, and she doubted any information she had not seen laid out in columns in a textbook.
Grant Glacier was a wide ribbon of ice winding out of the Quilak Mountains, white higher up and black lower down with a blue layer sandwiched between the two. "Why's it black lower down?" Peter Mike said.
"Who remembers what happened on March twenty-seventh, 1964?" Ms. Doogan said.
There was a blank silence.
"Come on," she said, and sang, " 'Rock and roll is here to stay, it will never die' — come on, you guys, you know this. Unless you've been propping your eyes open with toothpicks in class."
Johnny Morgan finally opened his mouth. "Earthquake." Anything to keep Ms. Doogan from singing again. Sheryl Crow she wasn't.
"That's right, Johnny," Ms. Doogan said, beaming, "the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. Nine-point-two on the Richter scale. One hundred and twenty-five people were killed, some by the resulting tsunami as far away as Oregon and even Hawaii. The biggest earthquake ever felt in the United States in recorded history. And, by the way, eight of the top ten biggest quakes in U.S. history have had their epicenters in Alaska. Little bit of trivia there for you."
They knew better. Ms. Doogan's trivia had a way of showing up on tests. Once more Johnny threw himself into the breach. "How's that make the glacier black on the bottom?"
"That same quake caused the mountain right next to it to shake into pieces."
"There is no mountain next to it," Alan Totemoff said.
"Exactly," Ms. Doogan said. "The resulting debris fell onto Grant Glacier, in a layer that was three feet thick." She demonstrated with a hand at midthigh.
Even Betty Freedman was impressed.
Like any good performer, Ms. Doogan had them from that moment and she was quick to press her advantage. "The edge of a glacier is a case study in giving birth."
Johnny thought of the baby moose and cringed inwardly.
"During the last ice age, glaciers advanced over much of the known land masses of the earth. They are now in recession. Look," she said, pointing. "Glaciers leave rocks behind, every size from sand to boulder. What's easiest to grow on rocks? Come on, we were talking about this on the hike up."
"Lichens," Betty said.
"Mosses," Vanessa said thickly, wrestling the peanut butter into submission.
"Very good. Yes, mosses and lichens, which begin the process of breaking down the rocks to form soil. Not much, at first, but some, enough for — what, to take root?"
"Flowers!" cried Andrea Kvasnikof.
"And grasses," Johnny Morgan said.
"Like lupine," said Andrea, who had her eye on Johnny Morgan, if only Vanessa Had-no-right-to-exist Cox would get out of her way.
"Yes, like lupine," Ms. Doogan said. "Talk to me about lu-pine. Anybody."
"They're purple," Andrea said after a brief pause.
"They're members of the legume family," Vanessa said.
"Legumes fix nitrogen in the soil."
"Nitrogen makes the soil more habitable for more complex plants," Betty said.
"Give me an example of shrubs."
"Cottonwoods are trees, doofus."
"And after the shrubs, what?"
Ms. Doogan waited for the laughter to die down. "Think about this, boys and girls," she said, waving a hand at the glacier. "Seventy-five years ago? This little strip of beach we're picnicking on was under the glacier. That's right, under a big slab of ice just like that one. Your grandmas and grandpas couldn't have had a school picnic here." Eyes widened, measured the distance between the face of the glacier, a wall of ice a hundred feet high, and their beachfront picnic site. "Mother Nature doesn't waste time in the Kanuyaq River basin. How many of you remember last summer, when Grant Glacier thrust forward right over the lake?"
Blank looks all around. Ms. Doogan tried not to let her exasperation show. These kids were living in the middle of a geological experiment in progress. If only she could get some of them to notice, they could go on to make a living from it one day.
They finished lunch and set out to explore. Ms. Doogan insisted that they go in groups of two or larger and stay in sight of her at all times, but beyond that they were free to wander as they chose, which added to the sense of it being more like a day off. Eric Kizzia ripped pages from his notebook and made paper sailboats to float in the lake, gathering other students to make a regatta out of it. Mary Lindbeck sat with her hands clasped around her knees and her face turned up to the sun. Others stretched out, some making notes, some napping.
"Hey, look, here's a trail," Johnny said. "It looks like it goes around the lake to the mouth of the glacier. Want to go?"
"Sure," Vanessa said.
"I'll go, too," Andrea said.
"And me," Betty said.
Johnny and Vanessa exchanged martyred looks. Johnny led off, with Vanessa behind. Somewhere along the route Andrea elbowed Vanessa to the rear. She tried to walk next to Johnny but the trail was too narrow, so instead she relied on tripping and slipping a lot. "Thanks," she said, the third time it happened. She smiled up at him as she used his hand to pull herself upright. "Sorry to be so clumsy." She turned the smile on Vanessa, who looked more than usually wooden of face.
Excerpted from A Grave Denied by Dana Stabenow. Copyright © 2003 Dana Stabenow. Excerpted by permission of St. Martins Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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just downloaded 5 new books from this author.
This was my first Kate Shugak mystery and of course since I was reading smack dab in the middle of the series, I felt completely left out about what's gone on with the characters! But it's definately a series I will come back to in the future.
I like this series. I have not read it in order. Maybe a little sentimental at the end of this one.
When Johnny starts his assigned summer journal, meant to be a simple chronicle of the wildlife he sees around the Park, little does he know that his life is about to be even more complicated than it's already been (and for a fourteen-year-old, he's had some major complications). A frozen stiff - pardon the pun - discovered in a pool of meltwater under a rapidly receding glacier would have been disturbing enough, but the hole blasted through the corpse's chest leaves little room for doubt - it was murder. Called in to investigate by Chopper Jim, Kate quickly learns that the victim had more than a few things to hide. Things heat up quickly after that as sparks fly between Jim & Kate. Arson, family relations of the unpleasant variety, and plenty of Mutt lappings round out the pages.There are a few loose ends that don't get tied up, and I figured out who-dun-it (even if why was a surprise) fairly early on. Perhaps not Stabenow's most riveting work, but I enjoyed the by-play between Jim & Kate anyway.
Well constructed mystery.
I've enjoyed all of Dana Stabenow's "Kate Shugak" series. Besides reading a good mystery, I get to learn about Alaska's histtory.
Stabenow doesn't disappoint in this 13th outing with Kate and company with the perfect balance of mystery, humor, and all-around Alaska-ness.
I am a faithful fan of Ms. Stabenow, and i must say that this book is one of my favorites in the series! Well written, great characters, I had to finish it! Great job, Dana!!