‘No Fixed Line – Kate Shugak #22’ by Dana Stabenow – an exploration of what makes us monstrous and what to do about it.

I enjoyed this visit with Kate Shugak a great deal.

When I was only two chapters into ‘No Fixed Line’ I wrote a post about ‘Why I Find Kate Shugak Comforting’ where I said that,

‘…at the heart of almost all of the stories, there is a refusal to abandon hope, to find the courage to persist and a determination not to look away. There’s also friendship, community, love, independence and honesty.’

Now that I’ve read the book, I can say that it delivered on all of that.

The title of the book is taken from Frost’s poem, ‘There Are Roughly Zones’. which fits perfectly with how Kate thinks when it says that there are boundaries that mustn’t be crossed and that becoming blind to those boundaries, failing to see that ‘there are roughly zones’ that keep us human, is how we become monstrous. 

The two intersecting plotlines in the book bring Kate into contact with some monstrous things.

The first plot confronts the behaviour of Trump’s ICE Storm Troopers in separating children from their parents, keeping them in cages and not keeping records of where they are and gives it an extra twist of corruption by adding sex-trafficking of the children to the mix and ex-Havard men running a drugs distribution network as if it were the logical extension of American MBA corporate culture. The second plot deals with a trap left for Kate in a poison chalice legacy that leads to yet another set of corrupt activities that Trump and his cronies are hip-deep in.

One of the things I liked about the book is that it wasn’t an ‘ain’t it awful?’ ‘look what these people are doing’ piece. It was a ‘how can we deal with this?’ piece. Kate has come into her maturity. She’s past the point where she spends the book being kidnapped and blind-sided and beaten up on while she tries to figure out what’s going on. True, someone is still trying to kill her in this book and someone is trying to destroy her reputation but Kate takes it in her stride. Kate is becoming a version of her grandmother. She has connection across the State and in various law enforcement agencies and she has developed the political savvy to use them well to make change happen without getting entangled in the political machine.

One of the strengths of this series is that it’s never all about Kate. There’s a strong ensemble cast who continue to develop and are more than just a background for Kate. So the initial response to the air crash that kicks off the novel is not by Kate but by characters that we know well from previous novels but who are changing their relationships with each other. A central action scene taking down the bad guys is mostly carried out by other people, including one of the Aunties. Jim Chopin is also emerging from Kate’s shadow and trying to figure out what to do with all the money he inherited from his unloved and unloving father.

Children and how they’re treated by the adults in their lives have always been central to the Kate Shugak books. This time the children provide the strongest emotional impact and how they are treated is the acid test of whether we’re living within the ‘zones’ that keep us human.

It seemed to me that ‘No Fixed Line’, the twenty-second book in the series, provided a great basis for the series growing and becoming stronger.

Once again, Marguerite Gavin’s narration brought me a lot of pleasure. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

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