The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 18

Warning: Spoilers spoken here.


Though Not Dead

winner of the 2012 Nero Award

Man, I havered over this one. My pick going in was the secret drawer, or drawers, the one in Auntie Joy’s armoire that contained the manuscript, the one in Jim’s father’s writing desk that held the clue to his true parentage, and of course the one in Old Sam’s compass, which Kate probably wouldn’t have found if Jim hadn’t found the one in his father’s writing desk first. You could even include where Old Sam hid the map, not exactly a drawer but a pretty efficient hidey-hole for anyone who didn’t know him as well as Kate did.


The secret drawers are of course emblematic of all the secrets held by the Shugak family in the Park, the Bannister family in Anchorage, Jim’s family in California, maybe by all families everywhere. You have a family. You know the ones. Google images for secret drawers; you’ll find a million of ’em. Secret drawers aren’t exactly a secret. Secrets never are, either.

But then Ginger said

I love where Old Sam hides the map and that Kate knows how he would have hidden it once she saw the the special hiding place in her aunts china cabinet that Old Sam made for her.

and Megan agreed, and so did Mary and Jody and Helen, and then Arlene practically wrote a dissertation about all the possible objects, concluding

the more I thought about it, the more it came to me that the manuscript encompassed everything: the icon, the nugget, Old Sam’s history, Auntie Joy’s history, the map, even if some of them are not explicitly mentioned in it…and all those things, one way or another, went toward making Kate who she is, even if she only learned about them in the course of this book.

This was a tough one.

I’m sticking with the secret drawers. After which I can be found hiding out under my bed.

Though Not Dead is my favorite of all the books I have ever written. I got to tell the last hundred years of Alaskan history through the eyes of a single character, something I’ve always wanted to do, and I got to send Kate on a scavenger hunt, which was a lot of fun, and then after I sent Jim off to California to get him out of the way he up and had an unexpected life of his own, which is always a gift from the writing gods. And then there is one of my favorite Kate scenes ever

The SUV was the second car back from the corner, behind the same electric pink Cadillac Seville that Kate had slipped in front of when it stalled out.  It was driven by a woman with big hair who wore a sparkler on her right hand that gave out a series of blinding flashes as she tapped her hand on the steering wheel to Van Halen.  She was still talking on her cell phone.  The bass reverberated all the way back to the Subaru.  The arrow was red but she was looking left at oncoming traffic, waiting for a gap to pull into.
    Kate looked left and willed the driver of the white Bronco to look her way before the light turned green.  He, too, was talking on his cell phone.  She rolled down her window.  “Hey!  Hey, mister!”
    He looked up and then over at her.  She gave him her most dazzling smile and goosed the Subaru ahead a couple of inches, nodding at the lane.
    He responded with a scowl and pulled up to within a whisker of the chrome bumper of the ancient Buick Skylark in front of him.
    The light turned green.  The electric pink Cadillac Seville started to turn, the SUV snarling bad-temperedly right behind it.
    She looked back at the man in the Bronco, who was watching at her with a smirk on his face.  He was still talking on his cell phone.  Hell, every second person at this intersection was talking on their cell phone.
    Kate grabbed the hem of her T-shirt and yanked it up to her neck and this time didn’t bother with the smile.
    The smirk vanished.  His cell phone dropped from his hand and his foot slipped off the clutch.  The Bronco lurched and stalled.  An older man in a panel truck in the lane next to him had seen the whole thing and was laughing so hard he had tears streaming down his face.  She threw him his very own spine-melter of a smile as she pulled her T-shirt back down and slipped in behind the Skylark, which was already put-putting up to the light.  She made it onto Tudor just as the light changed back to red, six cars behind the SUV.

Kate knows how to get the job done. Okay, enough with the bragging.

HoZ Kate19

Next month, an object from Restless in the Grave, the nineteenth Kate Shugak mystery and the return of Liam and Wy. Please put your suggestions for said object in the comments below, and thanks!





I can feel the sharks bumping my feet as I type these words.



If you’ve ever seen Jaws you’re familiar with this story. Days after it delivered Little Boy to Tinian, the battle cruiser USS Indianapolis is torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The attack is so effective that the bow literally vaporizes and because they are running “yoke-modified,” or most of the hatches dogged open because the crew is roasting in the tropical heat, water rushes into the hull and the ship sinks in twelve minutes (it took the Titanic two hours and 40 minutes from the time it hit the iceberg, just as a comparison, and it didn’t even have water-tight compartments).

An estimated 400 crew members are killed outright in the attack. The rest take to the water, for the next four to five days to be preyed on by sharks (an estimated 200 of them die this way) and suffer from sunburn and hypothermia. Thirst drives many of them to suicide and subsequent hallucinations even to murder. In the end, finally spotted from the air, there are 317 survivors out of a crew of 1,196.

Why were they in the water that long? Why wasn’t the ship reported missing when it didn’t arrive on its duty station? Why was there no reaction to their distress call, heard by at least three separate US Navy radio operators? Stanton answers all of those questions thanks to new information uncovered in the late 90s and those answers do not resound to the credit of the US Navy. The captain is court-martialed and convicted and his crew spends the next fifty years trying to have that conviction overturned. Eventually they succeed, although long after the captain commits suicide in 1968, after too much hate mail from the families of the sailors lost under his command.

This is an immediate and horrifyingly riveting read. I can feel the sharks bumping my feet as I type these words. The heroism of some of these men is almost incredible–Doctor Haynes who was treating the men in his group even while they were all moving a mile an hour toward Borneo with no help in sight. I don’t think I’m ever going to get over the scene where he buried the dead. Adrian Marks, the PBY pilot who landed in way too rough seas specifically against standing orders and got as many of the survivors on board as his craft could hold and still float, even tying some of them to the wings. Marine private Giles McCoy as he dives repeatedly into the water from their raft, sharks be damned, to retrieve a crewmate who is trying like hell to kill himself. These men, god, these men.

Stanton agrees with the overturning of the court-martial’s verdict. I don’t know, though. One of the reasons there was so much confusion during the sinking was that there had been no emergency drills. Crew members couldn’t even get one of the life boats to launch. Very few of the rafts had emergency supplies and almost none of them had water. Whose responsibility was it to make sure his crew was trained, that the survival gear was fully supplied and ready to use in the event of a catastrophic event like this? The captain.

Yeah, you can cite the speed of the sinking for some of the confusion, but even in that twelve minutes some damage control people were on hoses, ready to put out the fire, if only the pumps had still been running. Yes, the mission (to get the bomb to Tinian) was urgent and brief and perhaps didn’t allow for some crew training, but the Indianapolis was sailing into harm’s way. Why wasn’t someone tasked with checking the status of the emergency supplies and the shipworthiness of the launches and rafts?

I have a little experience on ships at sea and the crews are continually training. Much of that time, they are training for potential emergencies. Maybe that’s only the way things are now, after hideous object lessons like the Indianapolis. In which case, all those men did not die in vain.

There is a lot going on here besides the central story of two star-crossed lovers.



Another recommendation by Smart Bitches Trashy Books, I’ve just finished this fifth and final book in Higgins’ Blue Heron series. Set in a small town in upstate New York, the heirs and friends of the Blue Heron vineyard fall in and out of and back into love and eventually live happy ever after. Romance novels of the closed door variety, there is some very nice characterization here, some big ass horse laughs and some seriously tear-jerking moments (I’m thinking especially of Lucas and Bryce and Joe’s relationship in Waiting On You, which has little to do with the romance and which part of the book I found most compelling). Manningsport is definitely a place you want to get back to. One caveat: I did find all of the heroines’ mania over having babies a little trying, especially Honor’s eggs talking to her in The Perfect Match. Right, no woman can be truly complete without babies, what was I thinking.

My favorite is this one, Anything for You, where the narrative is told in flashbacks, a literary conceit I usually find annoying but here was hooked in from the getgo. Connor O’Rourke has been in love with Jessica Dunn since he was twelve, but Jessica comes from the wrong side of the tracks and carries a load of family baggage that has to be read to be believed. It is believable, though, every word all the way through, and the secondary characters, especially Connor’s twin Colleen and Jessica’s brother Davey (I beg your pardon, Connor, Dave) are interesting enough to carry the narrative by themselves. There are some reveals you don’t see coming and I always love that. Nothing is forced here, this is a very well plotted book that begins with one proposal and ends with another, where everything unfolds in a natural, inevitable manner, and I always love that, too, probably because I so seldom find it.

There is a lot going on here besides the central story of two star-crossed lovers. This is what having a relative with fetal alcohol syndrome is like and boy it is not easy, the perils of co-dependency, finding the strength for forgiveness not only for others but for yourself, and one of the better illustrations of the problems of extended families I’ve ever seen, also the farthest thing from easy. There is Jordan the bartender with a tendency to drop glassware whenever she sees Connor (Oops, Connor thinks, that’s right, he’s not supposed to look directly at her), and the hilarious scene where Connor is left on his own to raise enough from serious money people to start his own brewery and ends up drinking a little too much of his own product. I loved the “twin speak” between Connor and Colleen, too.

Yep, this one stays on my Kindle. Recommended.

A Who’s Who of Americans in Paris in the 1800’s

The Greater Journey: Americans in ParisThe Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

A Who’s Who of 1800’s Americans travel to Paris to study medicine and art and to just bask in the radiance that is the world’s greatest city. Everyone’s here, Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.), James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, John Singer Sergeant, Mary Cassatt, Teddie Roosevelt, the James brothers, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain, and everyone else you can think of.

They ate

“The French dine to gratify, we to appease appetite,” observed John Sanderson.
“We demolish dinner, they eat it.”

They looked at art

It was on Sunday only that the Musée du Louvre was open to the public,
and to the astonishment of the Americans, the enormous Sunday crowds at the museum included people from all walks of life, as though everyone cared about art.

They observed dead bodies

…for those with the stomach for it, there was another popular attraction of which no mention was to be found in Galignani’s Guide. At the Paris morgue on the Île-de-la-Cité unidentified bodies taken from the Seine were regularly put on public display. Most of the bodies had been caught in a net stretched across the river for that purpose downstream in Saint-Cloud. Some were murder victims, but the great majority were suicides stripped of their clothes, they lay stretched out on black marble tables, on the change someone might claim them. Otherwise, after three days, they were sold to doctors for ten francs each…As Sanderson noted, “You can stop in on your way as you go to the flower market, which is just opposite.”

The flower market might have been necessary, after that.

Charles Sumner, the senator who later, after giving an anti-slavery speech on the Senate floor, would be famously and most brutally attacked in that same chamber by Congressman and slave-owner Preston S. Brooks of (you guessed it) South Carolina, was not always an abolitionist. That changed in Paris, on Saturday, January 20, 1838, when he attended a lecture at the Sorbonne. Among the audience, he noted two or three blacks.

“They were standing in the midst of a knot of young men, and their color seemed to be no objection to them…with American impressions, it seemed very strange. It must be then that the distance between free blacks and whites among is is derived from education, and does not exist in the nature of things…” It was for Sumner a stunning revelation. Until this point he is not known to have shown any particular interest in the lives of black people, neither free blacks nor slaves.

Paris was not only transformative for the Americans who went there, but the world itself was transforming around them at the same time. The first wave of Americans traveled to Europe by sail, a journey that could take as long as two months, and would then board a diligence (stagecoach) for Paris, taking days to arrive. The second wave arrived by steam, taking considerably less time about it, and took the train, which took hours. Paris went through one war, two kings and three revolutions during this time, and what les Americains didn’t have front row seats to they read about via the first transAtlantic cable.

These expat Americans were so well-regarded by the Parisians that you better understand their gift of the Statue of Liberty. Stacy Schiff (read my review of her Cleopatra here,…) said of A Greater Journey in her NYT review

If anyone could get away with suggesting that room be made on Mount Rushmore for Asterix it is McCullough.

McCullough is definitely a Francophile par exellence. He’ll make you one, too.

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