The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 10

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.

HoZ Kate10

It’s the Herc. Has to be.

C-130 Hercules

In service since the 1950s, designed originally for troop transport in war zones, it is also one of the sturdiest and most reliable workhorses for transport of freight and heavy equipment into Bush Alaska, home to more rough gravel airstrips than just about anywhere else. They are common to Alaskan skies–I see one or more every day on their way to doing touch-and-goes at Homer Airport. Admittedly, it took a long time to find a pilot who would agree to putting a Herc into a flat spin, even if it was just in his own imagination. When I finally did, I stopped asking and wrote the scene.

A few years after Midnight Come Again was published, I was invited to ride along on the Alaska Air National Guard’s Operation Santa Claus, the annual trip they make to Savoonga. I even got to ride up front for a bit. Earplugs are advised.

And here’s the Kate Shugak history lesson I promised you last month–

Hunter’s Moon was very nearly the last Kate Shugak novel, not because Kate was done living her life but because my publisher lowballed me on the next contract offer. I like to eat, and a roof is good, too, and neither was possible with that offer. As far as I was concerned, the Kate Shugak series was done.

Meanwhile, across town, the lovely and talented Kelley Ragland, she of St. Martin’s Minotaur, heard on the wind that Kate might be homeless. It turned out she was Kate’s biggest fan, so she contacted my agent and made an offer that allowed for food and lodging. For the first time in my career I was making a decent living, and later, under Kelley’s care, Kate was hitting the New York Times bestseller list. Now I’m working on the twenty-first novel in the series.

Our hero.

Our hero.

None of it would have happened without Kelley Ragland. If there is a particular novel between Kate10 and Kate20 you like, thank her for it.

kate21-cover-artThe 21st Kate Shugak novel, coming May 6, 2017.

First time I’ve ever been compared to Elmore Leonard.

Excuse me while I’m over here breathing into a paper bag. And even more important: PW didn’t give anything away, so safe to read.


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Signed hardcover edition

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The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 9

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.

Hunter's Moon GDP cover art

This time it was almost unanimous. It’s Kate’s braid.

This braid graciously provided by my niece, Angelique. She's not going to cut hers off, though.

Photo of braid graciously provided by my niece, Angelique. She’s not going to cut hers off, though.


Marty hit the nail head on in her comment. Kate seldom does anything for only one reason. That braid was just too convenient a handle by which to be dragged around, and Kate gives no edge to the bad guys. Even more important in that moment, and as many of you pointed out, a woman cutting her hair is a sign of mourning in many cultures.

Besides, shorter hair is easier to care for, and Kate practices pragmatism like she took a vow. Easy, expedient, practical, these are words by which she lives.

And let’s face it, she’s not the vainest person you ever met. Her self image is not bound up in her hair.

Although I love Megan’s vote for duct tape. It does indeed bind the universe together. I mean, have you seen The Martian?

I like Laura’s comment about hunting, too. I visited the Purdey store in London back in the day. My ambition was to buy a pair of Purdey shotguns for my father, but he died before I could save up enough money. They were very nice to me in spite of my jeans and tennis shoes, and it was lovely to at least dream big there for a while.

kate21-cover-artThe 21st Kate Shugak novel, coming May 6, 2017.


“…the evil was not in the system, but in the man.”


George Smiley returns! To Sarratt, to speak forsoothingly of agents and ops past to the aspiring agents of the future. Told from the viewpoint of Ned, one of Smiley’s own agents in times past, this book is a series of vignettes of Ned’s cases, each introduced by a story from Smiley. It’s fun visiting with Smiley again, and there is plenty of on-screen appearances by le Carré’s Big Bad, Bill Hayden, but this book didn’t necessarily come fully together for me until the last page of the last chapter, when Ned on his last day on duty before retirement is sent down to give a come-to-Jesus speech to an arms dealer who doesn’t want to retire. Sir Anthony, the arms dealer, replies in part thusly

“I’m sorry,” he began, which was a lie to start with. “Did I understand you were appealing to my conscience? Good. Right. Make a statement for the record. Mind? Statement begins here. Point One. There is only one point actually. I don’t give a fart. The different between me and other charlies is, I admit it. If a horde of niggers–yes, I said niggers, I meant niggers–if these niggers shot each other dead with my toys tomorrow and I made a bob out of it, great news by me. Because if I don’t sell ’em the goods, some other charlies will…I’m Pharaoh, right? If a few thousand slaves have to die so that I can build this pyramid, nature.”

And poor, shell-shocked Ned can only think

…the evil that stood before me now was a wrecking infant in our own midst, and I became an infant in return, disarmed, speechless and betrayed. For a moment, it was as if my whole life had been fought against the wrong enemy…I thought of telling him that now we had defeated Communism, we were going to have to set about defeating capitalism, but that wasn’t really my point: the evil was not in the system, but in the man.

le Carré published this book in 1990, twenty-six years before the election of 2016. I don’t know if I’m more awed or more depressed by his prescience.

The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 8

WARNING: Spoilers spoken here.

Killing Grounds cover

I so wanted it to be the halibut heart because of Megan’s wonderful comment, but the fish wheel came on strong in the end and wiped out the competition. I found lots of video showing fish wheels in action on YouTube.

Fish wheels are common on Alaskan rivers. The fish caught are a primary food source, they’re dog food, they’re sold for the fuel necessary to keep Bush Alaskans warm through the winter. They are subject to wear and tear from the force of the water, chunks of ice during breakup, and deadheads, uprooted trees being pushed downriver, moving fast and hitting hard. (There is also enemy action, as some of you may remember from the Kate Shugak short story, “Cherchez la Femme.”)

The aunties’ problems with the fish hawk are loosely based on the real-life problems of Katie John of Mentasta.

Photo by Erik Hill, Alaska Dispatch News

Photo by Erik Hill, Alaska Dispatch News

The toughest broad in a state of tough broads, Katie John single-handedly wrestled both state and federal governments to the ground in the matter of Alaska Natives fishing on their historic fishing grounds. Man, just writing those words brings a grin to my face. Read her obituary here.

kate21-cover-artThe 21st Kate Shugak novel, coming May 6, 2017.