After a twenty-year print hiatus, the fourth, fifth, and sixth Kate Shugak novels are back in print in the US! Click on the cover art above for buy links.
In honor of this event, Aries had me write 500 words on the Kate Shugak series, as below. Enjoy!
If I had been smart enough to see A Cold Day for Murder as the first in a series that would last 23 books and counting, I would never have killed off Abel, Kate’s mentor. He was later replaced by Old Sam as the eminence grise of the series but there was a considerable amount of angst, not to say consternation for the next few Kate novels.
No, sadly, the first Kate Shugak novel was written originally as a writing exercise, because I’d just finished the second in a science fiction trilogy and I was tired of doing research. I set the mystery in Alaska and made a rule that the only references I could use were the Alaska Almanac Book of Facts and my memory. Kate is an Aleut because I was raised with Aleuts in Seldovia and my best friend is an Aleut (Kate is named for her). Kate is a woman not because I was making a statement about gender equality in crime fiction but because it’s always easier to write in your own gender.
It was definitely the lazy woman’s way to write a book. It wasn’t until I’d sold my first sf novel (Second Star) and my editor asked “What else have you got?” that I even remembered the existence of the mystery, then imaginatively titled Mystery.
Initially I was most influenced by Sherlock Holmes, whose stories I had memorized by the time I was twelve. I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t read a lot of crime fiction at all until I started writing it, and then, look out! Beginning with Sharon McCone, the first woman PI who could take a punch, Kinsey, Vic, I inhaled them all. I managed to amass the entire collection of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series and read them in order. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, same.
Travis would probably like Kate a lot, but Steve Carella would be a little standoffish. “Let’s face it, you never met a rule of evidence you liked,” Jim once said to her. As a PI she can get away with much a sworn officer cannot. Very results oriented, Kate, and not one to worry about fruit of the poisonous tree if she can nail a perp.
The Kate Shugak novels are as much — or more — about Alaska as they are about the crime. Alaska is one of the characters, it is omnipresent and all-influential, from the oilfields in Prudhoe Bay to the crab fishing grounds of the Aleutian Islands to the Quilak Mountains in the Park to the Y-K river deltas in the west. But then all my novels are like that. I always start with a place, then I figure out who lives there, and then I see what kind of trouble they can get themselves into.
Someone asked me if I found any inherent differences today between male and female PIs in crime fiction. Apart from how much easier it is for men to take a leak on a stakeout, would anyone but a fool dismiss Vic Warshawski or Clara Rinker because of their gender? Or Kate Shugak?
Not unless they wanted their nuts handed to them on a platter.
Read 500 words on Kate Shugak here.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.