Although "A Deeper Sleep" is the fifteenth Kate Shugak novel, it caught me by surprise from the beginning and kept surprising me throughout the book.
The first surprise was that "A Deeper Sleep" was narrated by Bernadette Dunne, rather than Marguerite Gavin, who has been the narrator for all the other books. I thought Bernadette Dunne did a great job. She caught every nuance of the story, but, after listening to fourteen novels with Marguerite Gavin's voice in my ear, she just didn't sound like Kate.
After a while, I began to wonder if this change was an acknowledgement of the nature of the book itself. Kate is front and centre in most of the books in the series, but not in this one. Here, she is no more important to the main plot than her state trooper lover, Jim Chopin. Most of the time, we are not in Kate's head. There are many scenes she's not in. It's as if the Park, Kate's tribe, her family and friends are over-shadowing Kate, expecting her to behave in certain ways and do certain things not just because of who she is but who they expect her to become. Kate's period of mourning is over. She's been allowed time to play cat and mouse with Jim Chopin's self-image. Now she must start to become the Elder her grandmother meant her to be.
Yet Kate's evolution, even her playful and sexually charged relationship with Jim, are background features to this novel, linking it to the rest of the series but not the focus of the reader's attention. That place is reserved for the monster of the book: Louis Deem.
Deem lives in the Park. It is well-known that he seduces and breaks women and it suspected that he kills them. They come to him voluntarily, even eagerly. When they come to understand who he is, they embrace death as a gift of release.
So how has Deem survived in the Park? Why has Kate, normally a law unto herself, not done something about him? It turns out that she's tried. She's assaulted him, threatened him, even had him arrested on fairly solid evidence. None of it worked. Deem is smart, manipulative, in control of his own hate and, perhaps most scary of all, is not afraid of Kate Shugak.
When the latest failed case against Deem is followed by brutal murders and whispers of child rape, something has to be done. Yet it is not primarily Kate who does it, which is the main surprise of the book.
This is a solid story about a predator thriving in the midst of a community that seems powerless to protect itself. It's about what that threat does to the people who have to watch it without being able to stop it. It explores the moral ambiguity of taking the law into your own hands and what meeting violence with violence does to those who act. It looks at the difference between being evil and doing bad things. It is a book filled with grief and waste and impotent anger.
It seemed to me that "A Deeper Sleep" signals a change in the Park. The evils that are done here will have consequences for many of the people in the Park. The context Kate is operating in is about to change. What is being asked of her is about to change. Kate herself comes out of this book innocent of wrong-doing but I had a strong sense that this will not save her.
"A Deeper Sleep" reminded me of "Playing With Fire", the first book in the series where Kate was unable to make things right in the face of a more powerful evil. It is a reminder that the world is full of threats, that actions have consequences, and that doing the right thing the wrong way always costs.
I'm rationing myself to one Kate Shugak book a month at the moment but I'm looking forward to book sixteen in July. Much as I enjoyed Bernadette Dunne's narration, I hope that Marguerite Gavin is back for the next one and that Kate is at its heart, dealing with her new situation.