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When winter’s done, but spring has not yet fully-sprung, much of Alaska tuns to slush. Locally, it’s called “breakup,” and it’s a… messy time of year. It’s certainly messy for Kate Shugak; between doing her taxes, being chased by grizzlies and getting shot-at by feuding families, she has to cope with an NTSB investigation that hits very close to home. Then, of course, there’s the body in the woods. And up at the old mining town. And… being Kate Shugak, somehow she can’t leave well enough alone, and begins to tease-apart a well-planned and surprising crime.
Breakup is the seventh novel in Stabenow’s Edgar Award-winning Kate Shugak series, and is often-cited as a fan-favorite.
Early spring in Alaska is breakup season: the temperature rises, animals and humans come out of hibernation and the state "melts into a 586,412-square mile pile of slush." This book describes breakup in detail, but if you're looking for a competent Kate Shugak detective story, give it a miss. Stabenow, returning to the milieu of A Fatal Thaw (1992), offers too many picturesque breakup stories and not enough mystery. In an exciting beginning, a jet engine falls out of the sky and smashes into Kate's isolated cabin in the national park, bearing a body in the wreckage. Later, Kate, an Aleut freelance investigator, finds a tourist killed by a bear. Eventually, she realizes that the deaths are related murders and, amidst the hurley-burley of breakup, identifies the culprit. In addition, the strongminded Kate is unwillingly pulled into tribal politics as the Niniltna Native Association expects her to assume the leadership role of her late grandmother Ekaterina. Stabenow writes lively, intriguing descriptions of the magnificence of the Alaska wilderness, its quirky inhabitants and Aleut cultural traditions. But the mystery seems almost an afterthought in this disappointing entry in the Shugak series.