Old Sam and Murray Morgan

This is one of those happy instances of the law of unintended writing consequences.

On page 271 of Though Not Dead, Old Sam tells Pappardelle, “I served in the Aleutians during the war. There wasn’t a lot to do, so every now and then to keep the enlisted out of trouble the brass would get the big idea to have educational talks by anyone they could sucker out of the ranks…One night this Signal Corps guy from Tacoma — what was his name? Morgan, that was it. Anyway, Morgan was some kind of writer or professor or something in real life and he gave us a talk about how the last shot fired in the American Civil War was fired in the Aleutians.

Murray Morgan was a real person, and lo and behold, I log on to my website one morning to find this message from Murray Morgan’s daughter, Lane:

A friend just told me that my dad, Murray Morgan, is a minor character (or a referenced person) person in Though Not Dead. Very cool. He was indeed in the ASC in the Aleutians at the same time as Dashiell Hammett. I look forward to reading the book and wish Murray were still around to see the reference.

It turns out Morgan wrote long letters home from the Aleutians and Lane has been posting them on line here.

This guy just lived and breathed good writing. I met him through his book, Confederate Raider in the North Pacific, which tells the story of the last shot fired in the Civil War, fired, yes, by Confederate Navy Captain James Waddell who was disrupting the enemy’s economy by sinking Yankee whaling ships in the North Pacific. It is full of delightful prose and terrific little word pictures of the characters involved. One example from page 14:

Richard Wright was not the type of man usually involved in conspiracy. A Liverpool merchant, prosperous and proud of his family, he had a burgher’s respect for safety and six per cent.

Another from page 26:

Charles Francis Adams, the American Minister to Great Britain, was more a precision instrument than a human being. A brilliant, polished New Englander, the son and grandson of presidents, compressed to the hardness of a diamond by the accumulated weight of family tradition, he served as the cutting edge of American diplomacy.

And this about Captain Waddell from page 38:

Waddell was startled by the dissension. A romantic, a believer in the glory of war, he could not understand men who were untempted by adventure.

There are many more similarly wonderful prose portraits, especially of Waddell and his crew, who are parfit, gentil knyghts without sacrificing any attention to their mission, which they fulfill to admiration while murdering no man nor outraging any woman. One of my favorite stories is the whaler which is under the command of the captain’s wife, the captain having died on the voyage. She has preserved his body in a barrel of whiskey so she can take him home and bury him in the family plot. Waddell sinks her ship, but he sees the lady and her pickled husband both landed safely on shore afterward. Marvelous stuff.

Due to what I’m beginning to believe is the almost suicidal shortsightedness of American publishing, Morgan’s book is no longer in print, but fear not because there are used copies galore available on Bookfinder.com. This is the best book written on this subject, and it is well worth the extra effort to acquire. Accept no substitute.

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.

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

The History of Kate Shugak in 20 Objects – 17

Warning: Spoilers spoken here.

HoZ Kate17

The Suulutag mine, of course, and more specifically, gold, and most specifically of all, Alaska’s mineral resources.

Barry W Nugget edit

The largest gold nugget ever found in Alaska, 294.10 troy ounces, or a little over twenty pounds, or a little under $400,000 at today’s price per troy ounce.

I’m just going to cut and past Megan’s comment here

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 10.06.44 AM

because really, what else is there to say?

The Park’s Suulutaq mine is of course based on the Pebble Mine, the most controversial issue in Alaska today. It’s died down some since Pebble failed its EIS but I wouldn’t bet a wooden nickle against the chances of it heating up again if oil prices remain too long in the basement (cue the Donlin mine). As of the writing of this post the price of gold is $1,357.50 per troy ounce and climbing.

This is what we do in Alaska–we’re a resource extraction state; i.e., we pull stuff out. We pull stuff out of the water and we pull stuff out of the ground. It ties us to a boom-and-bust cycle we have yet to summon up the political will to change.

It’s easy to say let a beautiful place be, but the people who live there still have to eat. People like Kate, and the rest of the Park rats. All those dying villages along the Kanuyaq River in the books? They’re fictional, but there are plenty of real ones.

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


Winnahs! of the audiobook bundle!

Remember last Tuesday’s Audiobook Giveaway on Facebook? Where those amazingly generous people at Macmillan Audio gave give you the chance to win a bundle of Kate Shugak audiobooks?

Can’t believe they included the new book in that, but they did.

Without further ado, here’s the lucky five who won:

Angelique Graham from Florence, Arizona

Diana Davila Pinagel from Miami Shores, Florida

Jodi Darby from Santa Rosa, California

John Bychowski from Carol Stream, Illinois

Sunny Nestler from Brunswick, Maryland

Samanatha the Sensational down at Macmillan Audio wrote yesterday, “I have just sent an email notifying them they’ve won. I will be out of the office the next two days so I will send out the prizes early next week.”

Congratulations, everyone!

Five days and counting…

Pre-order your copies here

Autographed copies from the Poisoned Pen.

on Amazon.

on Barnes and Noble.

on iTunes.

Wanna win three Kate audiobooks?

Thanks to the generosity of those great folks down at Macmillan Audio, today we’re giving away 5 sets of these three audiobooks!

Yes, that’s right, Samantha the Stupendous is even letting us give away five audio copies of the new book!

All you have to do to win is follow this link and follow the instructions.

Winners names and hometowns will be announced here on Thursday.

Hop on it!

Pre-order your copies here

Autographed copies from the Poisoned Pen. Other flavors from AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iTunes.

Mr. Wolfe in the house.

In all his bronzified and brass-plated glory.

Once again, my heart-felt thanks to the Wolfe Pack for their recognition of Though Not Dead, the 18th Kate Shugak novel.

winner of the 2012 Nero Award

Now it can be told…

On September 21st, Jane Cleland, of

also known as the Nero Wolfe Society, wrote to me as follows:

I’m THRILLED to inform you that [Though Not Dead has] won the Nero Award for Best Novel of 2011!!! We’ll disseminate the info via various social media and send out news releases to bookstores, libraries, and the media on December 2, 2012, the day after the official announcement at the Winter Banquet. Until then, please help us keep it a surprise…

…As you know, the Nero celebrates literary excellence in the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories. On behalf of the Wolfe Pack, congratulations! You join a stellar group of authors—Lawrence Block won the first Nero. Other past winners include Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Tess Gerritsen, and Martha Grimes, among others.

Two thoughts. One, that is awe-inspiring company to be keeping, and two, I have to keep this a secret for more than TWO MONTHS?

Last night at the Wolfe Pack’s annual banquet in New York City, my editor, Kelley Ragland, accepted my Nero on my behalf, and drank all my free booze while she was at it, and was made to sing as well, although there is no video so I can’t prove it. Here’s what Mr. Wolfe looks like in bronze:

The Wolfe Pack’s press release is here. My acceptance speech, read by the one, the only, the aforementioned Ms. Ragland, was as follows:

There is so much about Nero Wolfe that delights me.
Beginning with Rex Stout’s beard.
And that Mr. Wolfe is still in print. And that when you google Nero Wolfe you get 1,440,000 hits.
The third of which goes to the IMDB entry to A&E’s “A Nero Wolfe Mystery” series, starring heartthrob Timothy Hutton as Archie. Which was my first introduction to Mr. Wolfe. (Wait, what? William Shatner once played Archie? Blasphemy! Sacrilege!)
There are Nero Wolfe cooking blogs, and Nero Wolfe beer blogs. There are long lists of quotations from the novels, including from the first Nero Wolfe novel I ever read, Plot It Yourself, which is still my favorite. “It’s fine to have a conscience, but you can’t let it run wild.”
Words to live by. Especially in publishing.
Now, by the generosity of this august body, my name will pop up 1,440,001st on a google search of Nero Wolfe. I only wish I could be there to hoist an artisanal beer in gratitude to you all.
I only hope that Mr. Stout, who from all I can discover did not suffer fools gladly would have approved.
Although I’m far more apprehensive of Mr. Wolfe’s reaction.
Thank you all so very much.

winner of the 2011 Nero Award

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes.