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by Dana Stabenow
St. Martin's Minotaur, September 2003
321 pages
ISBN: 0312306814

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Johnny Morgan, the son of Kate Shugakıs dead lover, has run away from his mother and grandmother to stay with Kate in the Park. She has promised to protect him. On a school field trip to a glacier one day, he and several friends ducked into the cave made by the receding of the glacier and found a dead body. There was a huge shotgun hole in the body. He was quickly identified as Leon Dreyer, the local handyman. State Trooper Jim Chapin, with way too much crime on his hands, asked Kate if she would dig into Dreyerıs background and find out about him. The odd thing was that Dreyer did not seem to exist.

From this follows a story of excitement, suspense, pathos, tragedy, love, and hate. It is a story about family in some ways and a story about love, many different kinds of love, some of which are dangerous and destructive. As always the story is set before the magnificent backdrop of Alaska, sun shining, winter slowly melting away, and the fields and mountains full of green and growing things.

Every character in this book is well-drawn, many-faceted, with faults and virtues, and entirely believable. Stabenowıs characters grow from book to book and time brings change into their lives. Kate is fiercely determined to protect Johnny and just as determined to find out who killed Dreyer, especially after the killer threatened the two of them. The story is interspersed with entries in Johnnyıs journal (an assignment set by his teacher) and it is clear Stabenow understands teen-age boys very well. The people of the Park are like old friends or sometimes new friends whom we are just getting to know.

The thing about a Stabenow book is that it just absorbs the reader, bringing laughter and tears and awe and anger. She writes so well that the reader is delighted to suspend disbelief and believes completely in the world she has created. The writing tells the story, never gets in the way of it, and engrosses the reader.

The plot is without holes, in my opinion. Until the very moment of revelation, I had no idea who the murderer might be or what his or her motivation was. Stabenow leads us carefully and pleasantly (laughing all the time, I suspect) in the exact opposite direction of the truth. The red herrings are masterful and I followed every single one of them.

Stabenow is a master-storyteller. If, by some wild chance, you have not read her earlier books, you must do so because the growth of characters and the development of themes is quite important. I do not think you will ever be bored by one of her books, nor will you ever be complacent believing you know what will and will not happen. Each book can be read alone, but is even better as part of this series which never grows stale, never becomes comfortable, and always challenges the reader.

And when I finished I thought about the definition of family, of who my family is, of why we owe loyalty to our family, both our blood relatives and our near and dear friends. Once again this book goes beyond the plot to challenge us to think about ourselves.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, October 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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