Cover image for Book Club kit : A cold day for murder
Book Club kit : A cold day for murder
Publication Information:
New York : Berkley Books, c1992.
Physical Description:
10 bks. (199 p.) ; 17 cm. + 1 discussion guide
Kate Shugak mystery.
Kate Shugak, a former detective with the Anchorage District Attorney's office, is called out of her self-imposed isolation when she is recruited to find out what happened to a young national park ranger who disappeared during the Alaskan winter along with an investigator sent in to check on him.
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On Order



Kate Shugak returns to her roots in the far Alaskan north, after leaving the Anchorage D.A.'s office. Her deductive powers are definitely needed when a ranger disappears. Looking for clues among the Aleutian pipeliners, she begins to realize the fine line between lies and loyalties--between justice served and cold murder.

Reviews 2

School Library Journal Review

YA-- Up in the cold Alaskan countryside, a young National Park Ranger disappears. When the investigator on the case also vanishes, it's time for detective Kate Shugak to start hunting for answers. For those who like murder mysteries, female sleuths, and books set in Alaska, this is the one. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

This whodunit rides the crest of today's styles: a female detective, a remote locale and the conflict between the traditional way of life (in this case Aleut) and modern America. Detective Kate Shugak became the top investigator for the Anchorage District Attorney's Office. But after getting her throat cut while apprehending a child abuser, she has retired to the Park, 20 million acres of Alaskan wilderness, snow and eccentrics--yet the children's cries keep reverberating in her head. When a park ranger--a congressman's son--disappears, as does the investigator sent after him, the FBI and Shugak's old boss ask for her help. In the process Shugak gets shot at twice and readers get a guided tour of the local landmarks, including Shugak's manipulative grandmother's house in Niniltna (pop. 800) and Bernie's Roadhouse, site of a hilarious showdown between two drunken pipeline workers with a stolen 30-ton excavating machine and a helicopter-flying state trooper. Stabenow's ( Second Star ) tale lacks tension, and Shugak's unfocused anger at the world seems a bit forced, but overall this is an enjoyable and well-written yarn. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



They came out of the south late that morning on a black-and-silver Ski-doo LT. The driver had thick eyebrows and a thicker beard and a lush fur ruff around his hood, all rimmed with frost from the moisture of his breath. He was a big man, made larger by parka, down bib overalls, fur mukluks and thick fur gauntlets. His teeth were bared in a grin that was half-snarl. He looked like John Wayne ready to run the claim jumpers off his gold mine on that old White Mountain just a little southeast of Nome, if John Wayne had been outfitted by Eddie Bauer. The man sitting behind him and clinging desperately to his seat was half his size and had no ruff around the edge of his hood. His face was a fragile layer of frost over skin drained a pasty white. He wore a down snowsuit at least three sizes too big for him, the bottoms of the legs coming down over his wingtip shoes. He wasn't smiling at all. He looked like Sam McGee from Tennessee before he was stuffed into the furnace of the Alice May. The rending, tearing noise of the snow machine's engine echoed across the landscape and affronted the arctic peace of that December day. It startled a moose stripping the bark from a stand of spindly birches. It sent a beaver back into her den in a swift-running stream. It woke a bald eagle roosting in the top of a spruce, causing him to glare down on the two men with malevolent eyes. The sky was of that crystal clarity that comes only to lands of the far north in winter; light, translucent, wanting cloud and color. Only the first blush of sunrise outlined the jagged peaks of mountains to the east, though it was well past nine in the morning. The snow was layered in graceful white curves beneath the alder and spruce and cottonwood, all the trees except for the spruce spare and leafless, though even the green spines of the spruce seemed faded to black this morning. 'I gotta take a leak,' the man in back yelled in the driver's ear. 'You don't want to step off into the snow anywhere near here,' the driver roared over the noise of the machine. 'Why not?' the passenger yelled back. A thin shard of ice cracked and slid from his cheek. 'It's deeper than it looks, probably over your head. You could founder here and never come up for air. Just hang on. It's not far now.' The machine lurched and skidded around a clump of trees, and the passenger held on and muttered to himself through clenched teeth. The big man's grin broadened. Without warning they burst into a clearing. The big man reduced speed so abruptly that his passenger was thrown forward. When he hauled himself upright again and looked around, his first impression of the winter scene laid out before him was that it was just too immaculate, too orderly, too perfect to exist in a world of flawed, disorderly and imperfect men. The log cabin in the clearing sat on the edge of a bluff that fell a hundred feet to the half-frozen Kanuyaq River below. Beyond the far bank of the river the land rose swiftly into the sharp peaks of the Quilak Mountains. The cabin, looking more as if it had grown there naturally rather than been built by human hands, stood at the center of a small semicircle of buildings. At the left and slightly to the back there was an outhouse, tall, spare and functional. Several depressions in the snow around it indicated it had been moved more than once, which gave the man on the snow machine some idea of how long the homestead had been there. Next was a combined garage and shop, through the open door of which could be seen a snow machine, a small truck and assorted related gear. He found the sight of these indubitably twentieth-century products infinitely reassuring. Next to the cabin stood an elevated stand for a dozen fifty-five-gallon barrels of Chevron diesel fuel, stacked on their sides. Immediately to the right of the cabin was a greenhouse, its Visqueen panels opaque with frost. Next to it and completing the semicircle stood a cache elevated some ten feet in the air on peeled log stilts, with a narrow ladder leading to its single door. Paths through the drifts of snow had been cut with almost surgical precision, linking every structure to its neighbor. The resulting half-circle was packed firm between tidy berms as level as a clipped hedge. One trail led directly to the wood pile, which the man judged held at least three cords, split as neatly as they were stacked. Another pile of unsplit rounds stood next to the chopping block. There were no footprints outside the trails. It seemed that this was one homesteader who kept herself to herself. The glow of the wood of each structure testified to a yearly application of log oil. There wasn't a shake missing from any of the roofs. The usual dump of tires too worn to use but too good to throw away, the pile of leftover lumber cut in odd lengths but still good for something, someday, the stack of Blazo boxes to be used for shelves, the shiny hill of Blazo tins someday to carry water, the haphazard mound of empty, rusting fifty-five-gallon drums to be cut into stoves when the old one wore out, all these staples were missing. It was most unbushlike and positively unAlaskan. He had a suspicion that when the snow melted the grass wouldn't dare to grow more than an inch tall, or the tomatoes in the greenhouse bear less than twelve to the vine. He was assailed by an unexpected and entirely unaccustomed feeling of inadequacy, and wished suddenly that he had taken the time to search out a parka and boots, the winter uniform of the Alaskan bush, before making this pilgrimage. At least then he would have been properly dressed to meet Jack London, who was undoubtedly inside the cabin in front of him, writing 'To Build a Fire' and making countless future generations of Alaskan junior high English students miserable in the process. He would have been unsurprised to see Samuel Benton Steele mushing up the trail in his red Mountie coat and flat-brimmed Mountie hat. He would merely have turned to look for Soapy Smith moving fast in the other direction. He realized finally that his mouth was hanging half-open, closed it with something of a snap and wondered what kind of time warp they had wandered through on the way here, and if they would be able to find it again on the return to their own century. The big man switched off the engine. The waiting silence fell like a vengeful blow and his passenger was temporarily stunned by it. He rallied. 'All this scene needs is the Northern Lights,' he said, 'and we could paint it on a gold pan and get twenty bucks for it off the little old lady from Duluth.' The big man grinned a little. The smaller man took a deep breath and the frozen air burned into his lungs. Unused to it, he coughed. 'So this is her place?' 'This is it,' the big man confirmed, his deep voice rumbling over the clearing. As if to confirm his words, they heard the door to the cabin slam shut. The other man raised his eyebrows, cracking more ice off his face. 'Well, at least now we know she's home,' the big man said placidly, and dismounted. 'Son of a bitch, what is that?' his passenger said, his face if possible becoming even more colorless. The big man looked up to see an enormous gray animal with a stiff ruff and a plumed tail trotting across the yard in their direction, silent and purposeful. 'Dog,' he said laconically. 'Dog, huh?' the other man said, trying and failing to look away from the animal's unflinching yellow eyes. He groped in his pocket until his gloved fingers wrapped around the comforting butt of his .38 Police Special. He looked up to find those yellow eyes fixed on him with a thoughtful, considering expression, and he froze. 'Looks like a goddam wolf to me,' he said finally, trying hard to match the other man's nonchalance. 'Nah,' the big man said, holding out one hand, fingers curled, palm down. 'Only half. Hey, Mutt, how are you, girl?' She extended a cautious nose, sniffed twice and sneezed. Her tail gave a perfunctory wag. She looked from the first man to the second and seemed to raise one eyebrow. 'Hold out your hand,' the big man said. 'What?' 'Make a fist, palm down, hold it out.' The other man swallowed, mentally bid his hand goodbye and obeyed. Mutt sniffed it, looked him over a third time in a way that made him hope he wasn't breathing in an aggressive manner, and then stood to one side, clearly waiting to escort them to the door of the cabin. 'There's the outhouse,' the big man said, pointing. 'What?' 'You said you wanted to take a leak.' He looked from dog to outhouse and back to the dog. 'Not that bad.' 'That's some fucking doorman you've got out there,' he said, once he was safely inside the cabin and the door securely latched behind him. 'Can I offer you a drink?' Her voice was odd, too loud for a whisper, not low enough for a growl, and painfully rough, like a dull saw ripping through old cement. 'I'll take whatever you got, whiskey, vodka, the first bottle you grab.' The passenger had stripped off his outsize snowsuit to reveal a pin-striped three-piece suit complete with knotted tie and gold watch attached to a chain that stretched over a small, round potbelly the suit had been fighting ever since his teens. She paused momentarily, taking in this sartorial splendor with a long, speculative survey that reminded him uncomfortably of the dog outside. 'Coffee?' she said. 'Or I could mix up some lemonade.' 'Coffee's fine, Kate,' the big man said. The suit felt like crying. 'It's on the stove.' She jerked her chin. 'Mugs and spoons and sugar on the shelf to the left.' The big man smiled down at her. 'I know where the mugs are.' She didn't smile back. The mugs were utilitarian white porcelain and the coffee was nectar and ambrosia. By his second cup the suit had defrosted enough to revert to type, to examine and inventory the scene. The interior of the cabin was as neat as its exterior, maybe neater, neat enough to make his teeth ache. It reminded him of the cabin of a sailboat with one of those persnickety old bachelor skippers; there was by God a place for everything and everything had by God better be in its place. Kerosene lamps hissed gently from every corner of the room, making the cabin, unlike so many of its shadowy, smoky little contemporaries in the Alaskan bush, well lit. The plank walls, too, were sanded and finished. The first floor, some twenty-five feet square, was a living room, dining room and kitchen combined; a ladder led to a loft that presumably served as a bedroom, tucked away beneath the rear half of the roof's steep pitch. He estimated eleven hundred square feet of living space altogether, and was disposed to approve of the way it was arranged. An oil stove for cooking took up the center of the left wall, facing a wood stove on the right wall, both of them going. A tall blue enamel coffeepot stood on the oil stove. A steaming, gallon-size teakettle sat on the wood stove's large surface, and a large round tin tub hung on the wall behind it. A counter, interrupted by a large, shallow sink with a pump handle, ran from the door to the oil stove, shelves above and below filled with orderly stacks of dishes, pots and pans and foodstuffs. A small square dining table covered with a faded red-and-white checked oilskin stood in the rear left-hand corner next to the oil stove. There were two upright wooden chairs, old but sturdy. On a shelf above were half a dozen decks of cards, poker chips and a Scrabble game. A wide, built-in bench ran along the back wall and around the rear right-hand corner, padded with foam rubber and upholstered in a deep blue canvas fabric. Over the bench built-in shelves bore a battery-operated cassette player and tidy stacks of cassette tapes. He read some of the artists' names out loud. 'Peter, Paul and Mary, John Fogerty, Jimmy Buffet,' he said, and turned with a friendly smile. 'All your major American philosophers. We'll get along, Ms. Shugak.' She looked perfectly calm, her lips unsmiling, but there was a feeling of something barely leashed in her brown eyes when she paused in her bread making to look him over, head to toe, in a glance that once again took in his polished loafers, his immaculate suit and his crisply knotted tie. He checked an impulse to see if his fly was zipped. 'I wasn't aware we had to,' she said without inflection, and turned back to the counter. The suit turned to the big man, whose expression, if possible, was even harder to read than the woman's. The suit shrugged and continued his inspection. Between the wood stove and the door were bookshelves, reaching around the corner of the house and from floor to ceiling, every one of them crammed with books. Curious, he ran his finger down their spines, and found New Hampshire wedged in between Pale Gray for Guilt and Citizen of the Galaxy. He cast a glance at the woman's unresponsive back, and opened the slim volume. Many of the pages were dog-eared, with notes penciled in the margins in a small, neat, entirely illegible hand. He closed the book and then allowed it to fall open where it would, and read part of a poem about a man who burned down his house for the fire insurance so he could buy a telescope. There were no notes on that page, only the smooth feeling on his fingertips of words on paper worn thin with reading. He replaced the book and strummed the strings of the dusty guitar hanging next to the shelving. It was out of tune. It had been out of tune for a long time. 'Hey.' The woman was looking over at him, her eyes hard. 'Do you mind?' He dropped his hand. The silence in the little cabin bothered him. He had never been greeted with anything less than outright rejoicing in the Alaskan bush during the winter, or during the summer, either, any summer you could find anyone home. Especially at isolated homesteads like this one. He swung around and took his first real look at the woman who wasn't even curious enough to ask his name. The woman who, until fourteen months ago, had been the acknowledged star of the Anchorage District Attorney's investigative staff. Who had the highest conviction rate in the state's history for that position. Whose very presence on the prosecution's witness list had induced defense lawyers to throw in their briefs and plea-bargain. Who had successfully resisted three determined efforts on the part of the FBI to recruit her. Twenty-nine or thirty, he judged, which if she had had a year of training after college before going to work for Morgan would be about right. Five feet tall, no more, maybe a hundred and ten pounds. She had the burnished bronze skin and high, flat cheekbones of her race, with curiously light brown eyes tilted up at her temples, all of it framed by a shining fall of utterly black, utterly straight hair. The fabric of her red plaid shirt strained across her square shoulders and the swell of her breasts, and her Levis were worn white at butt and knees. She moved like a cat, all controlled muscle and natural grace, wary but assured. He wondered idly if she would be like a cat in bed, and then he remembered his wife and the last narrowly averted action for divorce and reined in his imagination. From the vibrations he was picking up between her and the big man he would never have a chance to test his luck, anyway. Then she bent down to bring another scoop of flour up from the sack on the floor, and he sucked in his breath. For a moment her collar had fallen away and he had seen the scar, twisted and ugly and still angry in color. It crossed her throat almost from ear to ear. That explains the voice, he thought, shaken. Why hadn't she gone to a plastic surgeon and had that fixed, or at least had the scar tissue trimmed and reduced in size? He looked up to see the big man watching him out of blue eyes that held a clear warning. His own gaze faltered and fell. But she had noticed his reaction. Her eyes narrowed. She lifted one hand as if to button her shirt up to the collar, hesitated, and let it fall. 'What do you want, Jack?' she said abruptly. The big man lowered his six-foot-two, two-hundred-and-twenty-pound frame down on the homemade couch, which groaned in protest, sipped at his coffee and wiped the moisture from his thick black mustache. He had hung his parka without looking for the hook, found the sugar on the right shelf the first time and settled himself on the softest spot on the couch without missing a beat. He looked relaxed, even at home, the suit thought. The woman evidently thought so, too, and her generous mouth tightened into a thin line. 'Parks Department's lost a ranger,' the big man said. She floured the counter and turned the dough out of the pan. The big man's imperturbable voice went on. 'He's been missing about six weeks.' She kneaded flour into the dough and folded it over once, twice, again. 'He couldn't have lost himself in a snowstorm and froze to death like most of them do?' 'He could have, but we don't think so.' 'Who's we?' 'This is Fred Gamble, FBI.' She looked the suit over and lifted one corner of her mouth in a faint smile that could not in any way be construed as friendly. 'The FBI? Well, well, well.' 'He came to us for help, since it's our jurisdiction. More or less. So as a professional courtesy I sent in an investigator from our office.' The woman's flour-covered hands were still for a moment, as she raised her eyes to glance briefly out the window over the sink. Gamble thought she was going to speak, but she resumed her task without comment. The big man looked into his coffee mug as if it held the answers to the mysteries of the universe. 'I haven't heard from him in two weeks. Since he called in from Niniltna the day after he arrived.' She folded another cup of flour into the dough and said, 'What's the FBI doing looking for a lost park ranger?' She paused, and said slowly, 'What's so special about this particular ranger?' The big man gave her unresponsive back a slight, approving smile. 'His father.' 'Who is?' 'A congressman from Ohio.' She gave a short, unamused laugh and shook her head, giving the suit a sardonic glance. 'Oh ho ho.' 'Yeah.' Gamble tugged at his tie, which felt a bit tight. 'So you sent in an investigator,' she said. 'Yes.' 'When? Exactly.' 'Two weeks and two days ago, exactly.' 'And now he's missing, too.' 'Yes.' 'And you don't think both of them could have stumbled into a snowdrift.' 'No. Not when the investigator went in specifically to look for the ranger.' 'Maybe it was the same snowdrift.' 'No.' 'No.' She worked the dough, her shoulders stiff and angry. 'And now you want me to go in.' 'The feds want the best. I recommended you. I told them you know the Park better than anyone. You were born here, raised here. Hell, you're related to half the people in it.' She sent him a black, unfriendly look, which he met without flinching. 'Why should I help you?' He shrugged and drained his cup, and stood to refill it. 'You've been pouting up here for over a year. From what I read outside just now you haven't left the homestead since the first snow.' He met her eyes with a bland expression. 'What's next? You going to give the spruce trees a manicure?' Her thick, straight brows met in a single line across her forehead. 'Maybe I just like living alone,' she snapped. 'And maybe you should get out of here so I can get on with it.' 'And maybe,' he said, 'you could use a little excitement right about now. At least looking for a couple of missing persons would give you the chance to talk to someone. Taken a vow of silence, Kate?' In spite of his outward appearance of calm, the big man's tone was barbed. Her hands stilled and she fixed him with a stony gaze. 'Dream on, Jack. I've got my books and my music, so I'm not bored. I run a couple traps, I pan a little gold, I bag a few tourists in season and raft them down the Kanuyaq, so I'm not broke. I guided a couple of hunting parties this fall and took my fee in meat, so the cache is full. I won't starve.' The corners of her mouth curled, and she added, her words a deliberate taunt, 'And Ken comes up from town every few weeks. So I'm not even horny.' The big man's jaw set hard, but he met her eyes without flinching. Gamble shifted in his seat and wished he'd never insisted on coming with Morgan to this godforsaken place, living legend or no. He cleared his throat gently. 'Listen, folks,' he said, examining his finger-nails, 'I get the feeling that if I weren't here the two of you would either duke it out or hit the sack or maybe both, and maybe that would be a good thing, but at this moment I don't really give a flying fuck about you or your personal problems. All I want is to get the Honorable Marcus A. Miller, representative of the great state of Ohio, off my goddam back. Now, what do you say?' The flush in her cheeks could have been from the heat of the stove. She held the big man's gaze for another long moment, and then whipped around and kneaded vigorously. 'There's nothing you have I need or want, Jack, so don't ask me for any favors. You won't be able to pay them back.' The fire crackled in the wood stove. Kate divided the dough into loaves and opened the oven on the oil stove to check the temperature. Gamble got up and refilled his coffee cup for the third time. The big man stirred, and said into the silence, 'You busted that bootlegger for the Niniltna Corporation.' There was a brief pause. 'That was different.' 'Kate--' 'Shut up about that, Jack. Just--shut up about it. Okay?' Into the following silence Gamble said gently, 'We'll pay you.' She shrugged. 'Four hundred a day and expenses.' She didn't even bother to shrug this time. The big man finished his coffee and motioned for the other man to do the same. He set both cups in the sink, standing next to her without looking at her. He worked the pump and rinsed them out and placed them upside down in the drainer. He dried his hands and pulled down his parka. Before shrugging into it, he reached into a deep pocket and pulled out a manila folder, which he tossed on the table. On his way out he paused at the door, glanced over his shoulder at Kate, up to her elbows in bread dough, and smiled to himself. The woman's voice came out low and husky. 'Jack.' He paused on the doorstep. 'Which investigator did you send in?' It was a question, but she didn't sound curious. She sounded as if she already knew. He lifted the latch and opened the door. 'Dahl went in.' He paused, and added gently, 'He had the most bush experience, you see. All that personal, one-on-one training you gave him.' He stepped outside and said over his shoulder, 'I left the ranger's file on the table. Get Bobby to call me when you have something.' Outside, Gamble looked at him and said, 'Where'd she get that scar?' Jack busied himself with the starter on the engine, and Gamble repeated, 'Morgan. Where did she get that scar?' The other man sighed, and said flatly, 'In a knife fight with a child molester.' Gamble stared at him. 'Jesus Christ. That part of the story is true, then?' 'Yeah.' The big man's eyes were bleak. 'Jesus Christ,' Gamble repeated. 'What happened?' Jack unscrewed the gas cap and rocked the snow machine back and forth, peering inside the tank. 'Somebody made an anonymous call to Family Services, reporting a father of five to be a habitual abuser of all five children. They called us. Kate went to check it out and caught him in the act with the four-year-old.' Gamble closed his eyes and shook his head. 'You nail the perp?' Morgan unhooked the jerry can from the back of the machine and emptied it into the gas tank. 'He's dead.' Gamble's sigh was long and drawn out. 'Uh-huh.' He stared at the cabin. The sun was out by now, but he felt cold all the way through. 'When did this happen?' 'Fourteen months, thirteen days.' The big man thought for a moment, and added, 'And seven hours ago.' Gamble stared at him. 'You're sure about the time frame?' The big man's ruddy cheeks darkened a little. It could have been the cold. He didn't answer. Gamble thought for a moment. 'That would have been about the time she left the D.A.'s office.' 'About.' 'Disability?' 'Nope. Quit.' Morgan replaced the gas cap and gave it a final twist. He raised his eyes to stare at the closed cabin door, before which Mutt sat, alert, motionless, looking at them with her ears up and her yellow eyes unblinking. 'She walked out of the hospital the next day and tacked a letter of resignation to my door with the knife she took off the perp.' 'Jesus Christ,' Gamble said for the third time. 'Yeah,' Jack said. 'Hell of a mess. His blood was still all over the blade.' He shook his head disapprovingly. 'Lousy crime scene inventory. APD should never have let her leave with it.' The big man looked steadily at the cabin, as if by sheer will his gaze would penetrate the walls and seek out the woman inside. 'She used to sing.' Gamble maintained a hopeful silence. It was the first remark Morgan had made all day that Gamble hadn't had to drag out of him. 'She knows all the words to every high sea chantey ever written down,' Morgan said softly. Gamble waited, but Morgan said nothing more. He started the engine and they climbed on the snow machine. Over the noise of the engine Gamble shouted, 'Well?' Morgan looked back at the cabin. 'She'll do it.' Gamble snorted. 'She'll do it,' the big man repeated. 'Roll those snowsuit legs down or your feet'll get frostbite. And next time for chrissake bring some goddam boots.' He pushed off with one foot and the machine began to slide forward. 'It's your call, Jack, but are you sure we shouldn't find someone else to do this job?' Gamble persisted. 'You sure she'll look for them?' 'I'm sure,' the big man said. His certainty did not sound as if it gave him any joy. Jerking awake at three the next morning, fleeing dark dreams of an endless procession of frightened, bleeding children begging her not to hurt their parents, Kate, sweating, trembling, swearing loudly to drown out the blood pounding in her ears, came to the same conclusion. The hauntings would continue no matter what she did; she knew that already. But for a time, perhaps, the ghosts would take on a different shape, mouth different words, stare accusingly for different reasons. It was enough. Excerpted from A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.