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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

So Sure of Death

Reviewed: October 24, 2003
By: Dana Stabenow
Publisher: Signet Books
277 pages, $9.99

The second of the Liam Campbell mysteries starts out with a bit of disconnection from the first. It seemed then that the relationship between newly transferred State Trooper Campbell and his former lover, Wyanet Chouinard, might have been on the mend. Something must have happened between one set of covers and the next, because the situation is not especially cheerful when this story begins.

Liam is, in fact, almost glad to have an excuse to hire Wy’s services as a pilot. The trip to the site of the disturbance would give them time to talk. Glad, that is, until he walks in the door of the detachment office to discover that his new second is a pilot. And a woman. Trooper Diana Prince, to be exact.

Soon, Liam is off to Kulukak Bay, to investigate a truly nasty boat fire that has taken the life of an entire family.

Wy, on the other hand, is off to deliver an eccentric archeologist to his dig, where it quickly becomes apparent that his assistant has met with foul play while the boss was away. Reluctantly, she realizes she will have to report this to Liam.

So it goes in this chapter of the story. Liam is still far from settled in. The only place he could find to live is a leaky fishing trawler. He is still mired in guilt over the death of his family and over his failure to properly supervise a delicate situation at his last posting, the failure that resulted in his demotion and exile to Newenham.

The two mysteries almost manage to take second place to the interplay of the characters. What about Old Moses, the drunken Yupik shaman? What is his fascination with tai chi, that he is determined both Liam and Wy will learn? Is he her father? When she asks that, there is no answer.

What about those ravens - or is it one raven - that seem to turn up at all the key moments in Liam’s life?

And, oh yes, if there wasn’t enough going on in his life at the moment, Liam’s no-nonsense father, Col. Charles Campbell, turns up at the nearby air base, on some sort of mission that he won’t discuss, but which gives him an opportunity to check up on his errant offspring.

Errant? Well, Liam’s in the wrong uniform, you see. By Charles reckoning, Liam was supposed to follow in his airborne footsteps. Liam, however, resisted that push, aided by the fact that he can’t stand to fly. The only time he comes close to enjoying a plane ride is when Wy is the pilot; even then, it’s sheer terror.

In spite of all this relationship stuff, there are two solid mysteries with real solutions in this novel, and both of them involve detective work, interviews, a chase scene and some fancy fisticuffs. The book moves so fast you wonder how Stabenow can pack all that into less than 300 pages.

If you’re familiar with the Kate Shugak series, the Campbell books do share a love of the outdoors, a wicked sense of humour, and pungent commentaries on a variety of subjects. They differ in narrative voice and the treatment of sex. Kate’s romances are full of Spenser-like double entendres, word play and lots of activity behind a drawn curtain. Liam and Wy talk a lot less and grapple a lot more.

So far, the titles in this series have all borrowed lines from the poetry of Robert Frost. I have to admit to being behind in my reading. Stabenow’s already up to number four in this series. It’s almost unfair when a writer produces two good series simultaneously. It makes it almost impossible to keep up.

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