Book review: Fire and Ice by Dana Stabenow

Fire and Ice
Dana Stabenow
Kindle edn, Gere Donovan press, 2010.

Having read the first of Dana Stabenow’s series about Alaskan investigator Kate Shugak, A Cold Day for Murder, I decided to try the first in the author’s more recent series about Alaskan State Trooper Liam Campbell.

Fire and Ice opens when Liam arrives at the remote bush town of Newenham, having recently been demoted owing to a complex back story that is revealed in the first half of the novel. As the plane comes in to land, Liam and the other passengers witness a horrible death, a man who is killed by the propeller of his small plane. As it is his job to investigate, Liam dashes to the scene and is rapidly unsettled by two events: one that the death was clearly not an accident; and two that the plane is owned by his old flame Wyanet Choinard (great name!). I suppose one of these characters is Fire and the other Ice but I am not sure which is which. Anyway, Liam is plunged into a chaotic series of events as he encounters various eccentric characters who boss him around and otherwise prevent him from finding somewhere to stay, causing him to kip in his office and deal, sleeplessly, with many overlapping crises that constantly arise.

Wyanet is a herring-spotter, hired by the fishermen of the region to fly above the sea for the time when the FDA opens a time-window during which the fish can legally be caught. The parts of the book I enjoyed the most were the descriptions of this unusual profession and the schemes that the pilots and seamen use to outfox each other to grab the biggest catch. Less successful is the overblown romance between Wy and Liam, but thankfully that is soon overshadowed by Liam’s investigation. The last third of the book comes to life as a detective novel, as Liam puts together the pieces of a sad tale of abuse and lies that underlie the crimes.

Although this novel is brisk and enjoyable, and provides plenty of local colour and comment, it does not have much depth. It relies too much on repeating the formula of the Kate Shugak novel I read, substituting a male protagonist for a female and a few other cosmetic changes – but the issues addressed, as well as the romantic agonising, characters and situations encountered, are very similar. I liked the book as a light read, but don’t feel compelled to read any more of the series.

I purchased the Kindle edition for 69p, but I note that it is now free on UK Amazon. According to the author’s website it is 99c on US Amazon (I am blocked from seeing US Amazon Kindle prices).

Author’s website.
Other reviews of Fire and Ice are at: The Mystery Reader and Publisher’s Weekly.

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13 thoughts on “Book review: Fire and Ice by Dana Stabenow

  1. Maxine – Thanks for this well-written and candid review. I know exactly what you mean about novels that follow other novels’ formulae, too.. Honestly, I think I’ll wait a bit on this one, so my TBR and credit card stay safe for the moment… ;-)

  2. I’ve yet to read the Kate Shugak novels so I can see the problems about them being similar. I read these – the Liam Campbell series and loved them all when they were first released. I agree with some of your points but still enjoyed them all the same. Thanks for reviewing it.

    • The other reviewers I link to here liked it more than me, Keishon. I would have liked it much more if I hadn’t read the other one as it was impossible to ignore the similarities. But it was fun, and I’d never have discovered this author at all if it wasn’t for you.

  3. Well, I have those two waiting for me, but I am glad I picked Åsa Larsson´s book first. And for once Rebecka seems fairly happy, but perhaps that is because I have only read a couple of pages.

  4. Maxine,
    I know exactly what you mean about Stabenow’s limitations as a writer. But, because they’re set in Alaska, her books hold enormous appeal for my husband Ken [he read three Kate Shugaks this summer], so I will recommend this one for him as well.

    I read A Cold Day for Murder this year, too, for 99 cents. I liked all the background about Alaska and its recent history, because it was so unfamiliar. I’ll read Stabenow again, but I have noted, it’s been at least four months since I read her, and I haven’t returned to her yet.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • Thanks for your comment, Judith. I really enjoyed all the local issues about the native Alaskans in the first Kate Shugak novel, and its treatment of social and political themes. I am quite tempted to read more of those. The trouble for me about this Liam Campbell book was that it all seemed to be a rehash – and I know from the author’s website that she wrote these Liam books when her editor moved to a different publisher – she liked working with that editor so because she could not (for contractual reasons) write a Kate book or about characters in those, she decided to create a new series using the same settings but different names.

  5. I have read nearly all of the Kate Shugak novels and liked them a lot. The plots were interesting and there was a lot of Alaskan history, political and social commentary. I lost interest a few books back because they lost their zip, their energy and were no longer interesting to me. I found the last one I picked up boring so it became a DNF and I haven’t read one since. The earlier ones are good.
    I tried to read the Campbell series but it held no interest for me so I quit.

    • That’s very useful, Kathy, thanks. As noted in my review of A Cold Day for Murder, the author has produced a video to fill you in on the first 15 books so you can start at Kate #16 and miss out the others. But, though I liked Kate #1 for all the reasons you write, I have my doubts (which you confirm) that she could continue for so long without recourse to formula.

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