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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, you could pretty much write your mysteries the way you wanted to without editors laying down a lot of rules beforehand. The quality of the manuscript was what mattered, not the nitwit notions of some marketing moron.
That changed about ten years ago.
That was when you were asked, "What's he do?" To which you replied, "Oh, he's a private eye (if it was hard-boiled); a monsignor (if it was a cozy); or a CIA agent (if it was a thriller)." And that was when you were told, "He's got to do something we can promote, you know, to make the book different."
Now he or she has to have a specialized gig. He's a psychotherapist. He flies an emergency helicopter. He's a transsexual baseball player who knits Nazi flags on his nights off.
This is not the age of hard-boiled or cozy. This is the age of occupation.
Thank you for letting me vent.
Now, I must admit that many good things have come from this obsession with promotable occupations. Because of it, mystery fiction has taken on a realism that had been lacking before. The protagonists today work in the real world and face real world problems. They don't go around beating up stereotype mobsters or dawdling in sunny gardens where the primary color is peachy-keen. Thanks to such fine writers as Carolyn Hart and Nancy Pickard and several others, even cozies have their dark sides today.
The trouble is, despite the realism, the writing isn't sometimes so good, and the people aren't quite what you'd call realistically portrayed. The occupation becomes the primary concern for writer and reader (and marketing genius) alike.
Dana Stabenow has beaten the game. Her Alaska novels take us to a world as unique and thrilling as a science fiction world, her investigations there giving her a unique occupation indeed. And her characters, every one of them including the minor ones, work very well as honestly and sometimes touchingly drawn human beings. And in addition, the books are first-rate mysteries. The plots are equal to the people.
In Midnight Come Again, State Trooper Jim Chopin thinks he's working for the FBI on a case involving Russian smugglers...but in the course of his detective work, he answers an even more momentous mystery...that of where heroine Kate Shugak has been lately. Friends are worried.
She's healing, is what she's up to -- and she's in the vicinity of the smugglers. The healing has to do with her terrible personal loss of a few novels back. She needs to find her center, her purpose again, and Stabenow handles this part of the story with spare grace and no soap operatics.
This just could be Stabenow's best book yet. You have the feeling she pushed herself hard on this one. Her previous novels, good as they were, didn't have the cathartic power of Midnight Come Again, particularly near the finish.
She done good. real good. (Ed Gorman)
Ed Gorman's latest novels include Wake Up Little Susie, Harlot's Moon, and Black River Falls, the latter of which "proves Gorman's mastery of the pure suspense novel," says Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. ABC-TV has optioned the novel as a movie. Gorman is also the editor of Mystery Scene magazine, which Stephen King calls "indispensable" for mystery readers.