Known for her evocative wilderness settings, Edgar-winner Stabenow heads into urban territory in her uneven 14th Kate Shugak mystery, which is set mainly in Anchorage and picks up where 2003's A Grave Denied
left off. Charlotte Bannister Muravieff, of an influential Alaska family, hires Kate to prove that her imprisoned mother, Victoria, wasn't the culprit behind a 30-year-old tragedy. Convicted of setting a fire in her house that killed her sleeping son William, Victoria is now dying of cancer. Kate hires poacher Kurt Pletnikoff, who's come to Anchorage for work, to help interview everyone still alive connected with the crime, including a reluctant Victoria and her remaining son, Oliver. Fast-paced action scenes, sympathetic child characters and Kate's appealing dog, Mutt, help smooth a complex plot strewn with chunks of historical background. Those looking for bodice-ripping romance will savor the heat generated between Kate and Alaska state trooper Jim Chopin, though established fans may be dismayed by Kate's aggressive sexual behavior. First-time readers may wish that a host of supporting characters, mostly Kate's friends and relatives, were better identified. Agent, Rich Henshaw. (Sept. 20)
Backed by a blurb from Michael Connelly, the publisher hopes to break Stabenow out of category with a 75,000-copy first printing and a national author tour. If this book doesn't do it for the deserving Stabenow, another one will.