Bad Blood
  • Bad Blood
  • Bad Blood

Bad Blood

3.5 53
by Dana Stabenow

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Dana Stabenow

The Alaskan villages of Kushtaka and Kuskulana sit across the river from each other, but Kuskulana's always thrived while Kushtaka is slowly dying out. One hundred years of bad blood between the communities threaten to come to a boil when the body of a young Kushtaka ne'er-do-well is found dead—and questions of love,

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Dana Stabenow

The Alaskan villages of Kushtaka and Kuskulana sit across the river from each other, but Kuskulana's always thrived while Kushtaka is slowly dying out. One hundred years of bad blood between the communities threaten to come to a boil when the body of a young Kushtaka ne'er-do-well is found dead—and questions of love, loyalty, and revenge rise to the surface. Could this one, unexplained death ignite an all-out war? When a second murder that looks suspiciously like payback occurs, the escalating enmity can no longer be ignored. Now it's up to private investigator Kate Shugak, along with Sergeant Jim Chopin, to find the truth about what happened…while a killer remains at large. And is on their trail…

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An affectionate nod to Romeo and Juliet, Stabenow’s absorbing 20th Kate Shugak novel (after 2012’s Restless in the Grave) focuses on two feuding villages in the 20 million acre Alaskan national park that Kate calls home. Kushtaka, founded by the Athabascan Mack family, is in decline, losing population and clinging to a subsistence lifestyle. Trappers led by the Norwegian Christianson family founded nearby Kuskulana, which has thrived with an airstrip, a growing population, and federal funds. When the body of Kushtakan Tyler Mack surfaces in a river, Sgt. Jim Chopin, a state trooper, thinks it’s likely a homicide; when a second body, of a Kuskulaner, turns up, Chopin is sure more violence will follow. The secretive romance between Kushtakan Jennifer Mack and Kuskulaner Ryan Christianson might turn the feud into a war. Meanwhile, Kate has a plan to save the couple. Edgar-winner Stabenow’s take on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers ends in a tragedy likely to shock series fans. Author tour. Agent: Danny Baror, Baror International. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

“Long-time devotees of this popular series will devour the book in a single sitting, and if there happen to be any fans of Alaska-set mystery fiction--books by John Straley, for example, or Sue Henry--who have not yet made the acquaintance of Kate Shugak, they should change that sooner rather than later.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Stabenow's intriguing characters and fascinating setting bring this mystery to life, but her narrative voice wins Bad Blood a Top Pick. She establishes the histories of the two communities featured in the story with an irony-tinged commentary that carries the reader right into the heart of the Alaskan wilderness.” —RT Book Reviews (4½ stars, Top Pick)

“To her usual atmospheric detection, Stabenow adds more than a hint of Romeo and Juliet, or the Hatfields and the McCoys.” —Kirkus Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A clash of family cultures may be behind a series of murders. The Alaskan villages of Kushtaka and Kuskulana share a salmon-filled river and a deep-rooted mutual hatred. Kushtaka natives, mostly Macks, adhere to the old ways and live in near poverty. Across the river, the Kuskulana residents, mostly Christiansons, reap the benefits of modernity. When state trooper Sgt. Jim Chopin is called in, Roger Christianson takes him to the Mack fish wheel, where the body of Tyler Mack has been found. Although Tyler's family considered him a lazy schemer, they're covering up evidence and plotting revenge. Jim's girlfriend, private eye Kate Shugak, a Native Alaskan with many family connections in the vast area known as the Park, quickly becomes involved. No sooner is Tyler's death ruled a murder then the body of Mitch Halvorsen is found sealed up in the house he's building on the Kuskulana side of the river. Mitch's brother Kenny demands revenge against the Kushtakers. Jim is sure that Mitch and Kenny were smuggling in alcohol and possibly drugs for the nearby mine workers, but his questions produce only silence and lies on both sides of the river. In the meantime, Ryan Christianson and Jennifer Mack, who have fallen in love, are secretly meeting even though their romance is certain to cause more trouble. Kate (Restless in the Grave, 2012, etc.), along with her half-wolf, Mutt, works her own angle and takes steps that may put her in danger in more ways than she can imagine. To her usual atmospheric detection, Stabenow adds more than a hint of Romeo and Juliet, or the Hatfields and the McCoys.

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Kate Shugak Series, #20
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Bad Blood

By Dana Stabenow

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Dana Stabenow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-02239-4


Two villages, where two rivers meet.

A geologic age before the runoff from Alaskan Glacier high up in the Quilak Mountains chewed through a granite ridge to form a narrow canyon fifteen miles long.

A millennium before, a massive earthquake exacerbated a fault in the ridge. Half of it cracked and slid off to the southwest. It left behind a V-shaped wedge between the confluence of two watercourses, which would one day be named Gruening River on the south side and Cataract Creek on the north.

The tip of the vee pointed due west. The surface of the wedge was flat and topped with a thick slice of verdant soil raised a hundred feet in the air by the earthquake. That earthquake had also fractured a way to the surface through the granite uplift for an underground spring. The spring's outflow trickled down the south face of the wedge, over time carving a channel for a little stream too steep to support a salmon run and too shallow to be good for anything but watering the blueberry bushes that grew thickly along its sides. In spring, this slope was first to thaw, snow and ice giving way to a fairyland of wildflowers, the brash orange and yellow florets of western columbine, the shy blue of forget-me-nots, the noxious brown blooms of chocolate lilies, the elegant pink paintbrush, and the dignified purple monkshood.

By luck of the geologic draw, the land across the river remained largely undisturbed by the earthquake, remaining a flat marsh covered in thick grass, cattails, and Alaska cotton. Over time glacial silt carried downriver filled in the marsh, and alder, diamond willow, and cottonwood grew out to the water's edge. The force and flow of the combined currents of river and stream undercut the banks to provide habitat for river otters, mink, and marten, and carved tiny tributaries to be dammed by beavers and colonized by salmon.

Two hundred winters before, the Mack family walked up the frozen river. It was a wide river, not too deep, with a good gravel bottom. When it thawed that spring, even on a cloudy day an endless silver horde was visible through the peaty water, a solidly packed, seemingly inexhaustible mixture of king and red and silver salmon moving inexorably upstream. Tobold Mack, the little clan's patriarch, had led them south from the Interior, where a wasting disease had affected the moose population. A decade of famine had led to inter-tribal competition among the local Athabascans over the remaining food sources, and to a disastrous decline in population of man and beast alike.

That summer, Tobold looked long on where the white water rushed to join the brown, at the arrows in both left by the dorsal fins of the struggling salmon, the birch stumps left by the beavers and the willow stands gnawed down by the moose. He looked up at the mountains that cut into the eastern horizon, beautiful and terrible, and yet comforting all the same in their solid impenetrability. With mountains like those at his back, a man felt safe.

"We have walked far enough," he said.

They built a weir and a snug dugout on the south shore of the river. Drying racks were next, for fish in summer and moose meat in winter, and caribou when the Quilak herds came down to the river to calve in spring. Babies were born and lived, and elders survived long enough to contribute their accumulated wisdom to the tribe, and for everyone in between there was enough food easily available that there was time to sing and dance and play and laugh. Time to not only make a birchwood bowl for eating, and time to carve decorations around its edge. Time not only to make a parka from beaver skins warm enough to withstand the worst winter could throw at them, and time to embroider the parka with trade beads and dentalium shells.

This village they named Kushtaka.

Seventy winters before the present day, Walter Estes and Percy Christianson came up the river, trappers looking for beaver. They were new to the country but not to Alaska, being Aleuts displaced from the island of Anua by the war the Japanese had brought to the great land. Walter and Percy had fought together in the islands and knew firsthand how little there was to go back to. Now they looked for a new place to call home.

The Macks, like any Alaskans happy to see a new face in the long dark doldrums of winter, made them welcome. Estes was half Italian and Christianson was half Norwegian but they both comported themselves as men should, sharing the game and the fish they took in equal measure with their hosts. There was still more than enough for all, then.

Five years later, Walter and Percy moved across the river and built their homes on top of the big wedge of rock rising in the vee between the creek and the river.

The Macks approved. Ownership of any part of river and creek and its adjacent lands was not a concept the people of Kushtaka understood. They hunted the moose that browsed through the willow and the caribou that calved on the riverbanks, they trapped the beaver and the river otter and the muskrat, they gathered the crowberries and the blueberries that grew on the south-facing slope of the wedge, and they cut the wood of the spruce and birch and alder for fuel. They took enough, never too much, because there was always next season, and they knew from hard experience handed down from Tobold Mack himself that there was always the chance that the next season could be a bad one, with the long cold returning, scarce game, and too many mouths to feed. In this vast land, there was still plenty of room for all, and a good neighbor was always welcome in hard times.

Percy sent for his bride, Balasha, who was half Russian, a plump, lively woman who settled down to smoke salmon, weave grass baskets in the fashion of the Aleuts, and pop out healthy children at the rate of one every two years. Walter married Nancy Mack, who joined him up on the wedge, in the log cabin he built for her.

They called their village Kuskulana. It was not as conveniently placed as Kushtaka, being a hard slog uphill from the salmon-rich waters of river and creek, and a longer, harder slog uphill when burdened with the hindquarter of a moose. But the spring that bubbled up provided much better drinking water than the Kushtaka wells, which were brown and brackish, and its sharp point hid a good-sized plateau that widened to the east, a good site for an airstrip. Walter, inspired by the sight of the fighters and bombers who had filled the air over the skies of the Aleutians during the war, was determined to learn to fly and promptly hacked an airstrip out of the alders, tied a red flannel shirt on a pole at one end for a wind sock, and bought one of the first Piper Super Cubs.

Twenty winters on, President Eisenhower signed Alaska's statehood act, and among other things, the federal government began to build post offices in the Bush. Air taxies all over Alaska got federal mail contracts. Kuskulana and Kushtaka both applied for the post office, which went to Kuskulana because they had the airstrip, and Walter's son, Walter, Jr., got the mail contract.

And because the post office was in Kuskulana, a Christianson got the postmaster's job, a rare prize in Bush Alaska, full-time federal employment with a steady paycheck and benefits.

Twelve years after statehood, President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, in which Alaskan tribes gave the federal government a right-of-way across aboriginal lands from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, built to bring North Slope oil to market. In exchange, the tribes received forty-four million acres and almost a billion dollars.

Some Alaska Natives claimed that, with the formation of tribes into corporations, their homes, their ways of life, their very cultures would be forfeit, requiring them to become white in an already too white world. But land and money, those two possessions by which white culture measured itself, were powerful inducements. As most tribes did after enduring three hundred years of forced secondary status, Kuskulana opted into the agreement.

Kushtaka was one of the handful of Alaskan villages that did not.

ANCSA money flowed into Kuskulana coffers, and the village blossomed out with new houses and the villagers with new skiffs and drifters and four-wheelers and snow machines.

Kushtaka rechinked the steadily increasing gaps between the logs on their fifty- and hundred-year-old cabin walls, and made do with boats and Snogos inherited from their fathers.

Kuskulana was given its pick of parcels of prime land in the area, and every Kuskulaner of any age from six months to sixty years became the proud owner of a five-acre lot, many of them on the Gruening River and several of which encroached on the land where Kushtaka's fish wheel had stood for generations. Roger Christianson, Sr., even tried to lay claim to the fish wheel site itself. Said claim was quickly quashed, but the Kushtakans didn't forget. It didn't help matters when Kuskulana built their new boat landing almost directly across the river from the Kushtaka fish wheel. The wash from the Kuskulana skiffs muddied the water near the fish wheel and frightened the salmon.

Dale and Mary Mack at Kushtaka opened a little store in their living room, stocking it with items they bought in bulk from Ahtna and Anchorage and selling them at a modest markup, dry and canned goods, cases of pop and potato chips, aspirin and Band-Aids.

And then Roger Christianson and Silvio Aguilar opened a full-service store in its own building in Kuskulana, with everything the Macks' store carried plus fresh fruit and vegetables and even fresh milk.

The Macks' store was out of business in three months. Dale Mack and Roger Christianson bumped into each other at Costco in Ahtna and had words that were witnessed by people from both villages, words that lost nothing in the retelling and only hardened the attitudes of everyone who heard it second- and thirdhand. You couldn't trust a Kuskulaner not to steal your idea and cheat you out of your business, the Kushtakans said. Those Kushtakers, said the Kuskulaners, they hadn't really made it into this century yet, you know? Probably wouldn't ever, the rate they were going. They hadn't even managed to muster the wherewithal to pay for a power line across the river, and there wasn't a flush toilet in the entire village.

Whereas every new house in Kuskulana had hot and cold running water.

Teenagers of both villages, quick to pick up the elder vibe, began a series of hormone-driven confrontations at various potlatches. Outnumbered five to one, the Kushtakers took home the majority of the bruises, but so long as the hostilities were confined to the occasional tribal celebration held far away from either village, the adults were inclined to look the other way.

Two years before, the world's second-largest gold deposit was found sixty miles north-northeast of where the creek and the river met.

Before the first backhoe was airlifted into the Suulutaq Mine, the population of Kuskulana climbed onto its many four-wheelers and beat down a serviceable trail between their village and the mine site. With ready access winter and summer, the trail made their people more attractive as employees to mine management. Given the working airstrip, Kuskulana became the designated alternative landing site in case Niniltna and Suulutaq were both socked in at the same time. Which made the Kuskulana strip eligible for federal funds for runway improvements, an electronic weather-reporting station, and the construction of a hangar.

Kuskulana was, therefore, enthusiastically pro-mine, and their people came home to spend their paychecks.

Kushtaka, on the wrong side of the river, sent fewer workers to the mine. Those who went seldom returned, preferring to resettle in Kuskulana and Niniltna and Ahtna and even Anchorage, where there was cable and Costco, and Beyoncé concerts only a 737 ride away. Kushtakans, fearing the drain on their population and resenting the ever-increasing wealth of their parvenu neighbors, came down hard against the mine, on the side of the fishermen and the environmentalists and the conservationists who were devoting their considerable resources to stop it.

That September, Zeke Mack was out moose-hunting on the south side of the river. Inexplicably, he missed the bull with the four brow tines on both sides and instead put a hole through the trailing edge of the right wing of Joe Estes's 172. Joe having just taken off from the south end of the Kuskulana airstrip and at that time 150 feet in the air.

Joe got back down in one piece, but it soon became known in both communities where the shot had come from, and there was some subsequent conversation about just how bad Zeke's eyesight was. A lot of laughter accompanied the conversation in Kushtaka. Laughter was conspicuous by its absence in Kuskulana, whose pilots started taking off to the north.

The following May, the state announced that it was closing the Kushtaka school because enrollment had fallen below ten students, and that Kushtaka students henceforth would attend the Kuskulana school. Truth to tell, Kushtaka had been fudging the numbers for years. Roger Christianson, Jr., in Kuskulana and Uncle Pat Mack in Kushtaka — on the whole, sensible men — did think privately that perhaps some of the hostility between the two villages might abate once the kids started having to sit next to one another in class.

That, of course, was before someone tried to set the Kuskulana Public School on fire with a five-gallon can of gasoline and a blowtorch.

And last September, Far North Communications built a cell tower in Kuskulana. They dedicated one of the antennas on the tower to Kushtaka.

Geography informs who we are.

Kuskulana, flush with ANCSA, state, and federal dollars and land, a post office, an airstrip, a store, a school, a cell tower, on the same side of the river as a world-class industrial development and with a trail navigable by ATV and snow machine between the two, flourished.

Kushtaka ... did not.




Tyler Mack was an eighteen-year-old stick of postadolescent dynamite just waiting for the right match. He was smart in all the wrong ways, using his intelligence chiefly to conspire with Boris Balluta, his best friend and coconspirator since childhood, on ways and means to avoid manual labor.

Of medium height, built mostly of muscle and bone, Tyler had thick dark hair that flopped into dark brown eyes that always seemed to be more focused on his next deal than on the person he was talking to. He was a shirttail relative of Auntie Edna in Niniltna, which made the entire Shugak clan part of his extended family in Byzantine ways known only to its elders. Auntie Edna considered him a member of her personal tribe and was quick to grab him up by the ear when word of his activities came her way. Tyler, as quick as he was lazy, took good care to keep his ears out of her reach.

But this morning he hadn't been quick enough, his uncle Pat having dumped him out of bed at sunup, which in mid-July was 2 A.M., and booted him into his clothes and on his way upriver without so much as a mug of coffee to get his heart started.

It was a beautiful morning, clear and cool. Mist smoked up from the surface of the water, broken temporarily by the bow of the skiff moving upriver, closing in again behind its stern. Night, in summer only a suggestion of twilight between midnight and oh-dark-thirty, gave way to an intensifying rim of gold on that part of the horizon stretching from the northeast all the way around to the southwest. Uncle Pat's outboard was so finely tuned and so diligently maintained that its muted purr was barely audible above the rush of water beneath the skiff's hull. Eagles chittered from treetops. A moose cow and two leggy calves foraged for the tenderest shoots of willow on one bank. Around a bend, a grizzly bear sleeping peacefully on a gravel bar woke with a snort and glared around nearsightedly. He rolled to all four paws and gave himself a good shake, his thick golden pelt moving almost independently of the rich layer of fat beneath, and lumbered into the water to bat out a morning snack of red salmon.


Excerpted from Bad Blood by Dana Stabenow. Copyright © 2013 Dana Stabenow. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Bad Blood 3.5 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 53 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm really disappointed in this one. The writing really felt like it was done by someone trying to emulate Dana Stabenow....the characters, including Kate and Mutt just felt "flat." The story really didn't flow very well in my opinion and to top it off, she left it with a cliff hanger, which in the past has been pretty rare and frankly, is not something I ever enjoy. I actually disliked this one enough that I will have second, and perhaps third, thoughts before purchasing the next one in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been reading Kate books faithfully over the last twenty years. This one's ending had me screaming. Enjoyed it right up until the very end. Unsatisfactory, and highly aggravating, ending for true Kate and Mutt fans. How Stabenow could have left it this way is beyond me. This series is among my very favorite. Despite the ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed the rest of this series, but this book is not up to par. The book is quite short, and it takes about 90 pages to get into the story. I also didn't like the ending. Even a cliff hanger ending should be allotted more than one page!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I have been a faithful and loyal fan through the entire Shugak series, this one felt more like a historical summarization of facts and characters. I hate feeling like Stabenow has run her course with Kate and ended it all so abruptly to spare us the misery of deteriorating story lines. If this is indeed the end, I am more than disappointed. But maybe Stabenow will start working again on fleshing out Liam's story . . ?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not nearly as good as all the others.... I felt like someone else wrote this one, trying to be like Dana Stabenow.... But still a good book, but not her best..
Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
You wouldn't think it would be all that hard, To take a plot once written by the Bard, To give chronology a little push And transplant it to the Alaska Bush. Of Kushkalana's Ryan Christianson - Kushtaka's Jenny Mack the boy SHOULD shun. Instead, they fall in love and - no surprise - in murder mysteries, somebody dies. A village full of suspects - make that TWO - For Chopper Jim to have to interview, And Kate and Mutt are dragged in it, as well, With violence from both towns; it must be quelled. SOME dwellers in The Park are here to see, While others are just mentioned casually. The book's main focus is on those feuding towns And citizens who will not settle down. The ending for our author is a shift, She leaves us all a'hanging from a cliff, So Dana Stabenow, what will we do While waiting 'til next year for your Part 2???
RUSSIAN_WOLF More than 1 year ago
Have read all in the series of Kate Shugak... but what did you do this time... !!!!! Is it the end of Kate, have you given me a REAL CLIFF HANGER or is there a new book coming out so that Kate can take another breath ?? if a next is in the making please don't keep me waiting... a loyal reader...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kate Shugak is a "oner," as they say in crossword puzzles. Dana Stabenow does another masterful job in continuing Kate's story. If you like mysteries with a strong female protagonist, the Shugak series is for you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this author and this character but did not enjoy this book as well as the others and found the ending more than annoying. Like the other faithful readers who have posted; Ms Stabenow will regain my trust when she posts a synopsis of an upcoming Kate novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed all her other books, which I've read twic already. Can't wait for the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderfull, exciting book as usual. That is until the last page.
Biznessgal1 More than 1 year ago
I am a long-time Stabenow fan and have read everything she has published prior to this novel. This one seems like a throw away. There is no character development, no advancing of any prior storylines, and her writing is disjointed. Hopefully the next one in the series will be back to her usual excellent work.
Anonymous 5 days ago
Anonymous 7 months ago
I am so sorry the author hooked Jim Chopin, a great guy, up with Kate Shugach, who I freaking hate. Shugach is at her meddlesome worst in this one, once again taking it upon herself to interfere with others' parenting. For someone from a totally dysfunctiinal family, with no actual children of her own, she has some nerve going behind parents' backs in virtually every book. Look, Stabenow, the woman has no credentials for this; why dn't you have her solve an actual mstery for a change?
beachpolly More than 1 year ago
I liked this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this the end..?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Always good, but I didn't want them to end.
Audrey84 More than 1 year ago
I've LOVED The Kate Shugak books up until now. The only other book I wasn't real thrilled about is when she killed off a major character in a previous book, but the story line picked up in future books and she kept the story line flowing. This book just didn't have that. Plus, I HATED the ending. Thumbs down to the editor who told her that was a good idea the formate with the "Acts" as if mimicking a play must not have read any of the other books because it just didn't flow like her previous books. I love Dana's books and and hope she continues with the series. I would hate to see this being the last Shugak book. With that all said, I would still buy any new book she puts out (I own them all), because up until this past book, I've loved her style of writing
JBird55 More than 1 year ago
I have loved Kate Shugak since the beginning but this latest book was a total disappointment. I wish I would have paid more attention to the reviews before I purchased it. Dana, you have really let your fans down with this book. It has a super slow start, and seemed disjointed. The ending was terrible. Horrible book not at all like the others in the series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have loved every book in this series until this one. What a major letdown. Very bad ending. I don't know why the author would do that to her loyal readers. Perhaps if she were planning to publish a sequel soon, I might understand it. But since she's not, this was just a very bad mistake.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love her description of Alaska and the historical facts. At times she gets kind of weird with the sex angle though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! As I have come to expect from Dana's books, this one doesn't disappoint (other than what goes on in it but I don't want to give that away!). I have loved the Kate Shugak books from the first right up to this one, #20! Well written. Like family. I've laughed, I've cried, I've been angry, I've mourned... so, so good. Give her a try. You'll be hooked!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read Stabenow for a long time, and have never regretted buying one of her books until now. This must have been written to fulfill a contract because she appears to have had zero interest in the story line, only as a means to achieve the ending she wanted. SPOILER ALERT: Other favorite authors have written out (killed off) their primary character in a way that held your attention as well as your heart. Not here! It was simply the end of a contract. No love shown, for her characters or for her loyal readers. Plot is weak, well-loved character almost nonexistent, writing lack luster at best. Shame on you, Ms Stabenow, for this poor wrap to a much loved series. I won't be back!