"A Grave Denied" is not quite as light-hearted as "Breakup" was (duh! It has the word Grave in the title) but it is more upbeat than any book from "Hunter's Moon" onwards.
Kate is no longer lost. She is coming back to herself and coming home. Of course, this being a Kate Shugak book, that turns out to have a great deal of trauma and risk associated with it.
The story revolves around the discovery that someone has shot dead a local handy man and hidden his body in a glacier. At the overworked Jim Chopin's request, Kate gets involved in the investigation of the murder. This quickly becomes personal and puts her and those around her at risk. The plot is a bit spookier than most Kate Shugak books, more like the things Liam Campbell deals with, it's complicated and unpleasant and has quite a slow reveal.
The murder investigation is an enabler in the novel, not the heart of it. What I particularly liked about this Kate Shugak novel is that it is an ensemble piece, with all the major characters playing a part and almost everyone else getting at least a cameo.
Johnny Morgan is growing up and his Journal entry opens the book and other entries give his perspective on what living with Kate it like. Bobby faces his own problems with the family he left behind and broke contact with when he came to Alaska, Dinah shows her metal as a wife and mother and a staunch friend, and Jim Chopin get's more from Kate than he expected from her and is scared silly by it. Kate's life IS the people she loves, as much as it is the place she lives in. This book makes that clear in a very dramatic and emotionally moving way.
There were three things I liked about Kate in this book. The first was her confrontation with Johnny Morgan's mother. Kate is direct, forceful, ruthless and fearless - and not above fighting dirty if that's what it takes. This is the Kate Shugak that has the Park's respect. It was fun to watch. The second was the pleasure Kate takes in her new-found power over Jim Chopin. It was wicked, and funny and I hope to see a lot more of it. The third was Kate's recognition of her own roots in the house her father built. We've heard relatively little about her parents. It was good to see her attached to positive memories.
It was much harder to watch Kate's shock after the ultimate "involuntary Potlatch", it was like watching a great forest burn, it may bring renewal but while its happening it feels like a tragic end, not a new beginning. Watching Kate's friends responded was a welcome relief that lifted my mood.
Despite the threats to Kate and Mutt, despite the unpleasant motivations of the various parties involved in the crime, this feels like a book of healing: taking Kate back to a new beginning from which she can thrive.