A Night Too Dark, by Dana Stabenow

With the power out all week thanks to Hurricane Irene, I've had many nights that were too dark recently. This 17th novel in the Kate Shugak series starts when a pickup truck is discovered on a rarely traveled road in Alaska with a suicide note taped to the steering wheel. It could have been there an hour or over a month, so a search is organized for the missing driver. Kate, a private investigator in the small town of Niniltna, is drafted by the short-handed police force to conduct the search, but she has barely started when she is interrupted by a ferocious crashing in the woods headed straight for her.

The truck appears to belong to a roustabout from the Suulutaq Mine. Located in the middle of the Iqaluk Wildlife Refuge, 50 miles from Niniltna, the mine is the process of being surveyed. It promises to be the second-largest gold mine in the world, so of course major interests are playing out some heavy political maneuvers, including several corporations and the Niniltna Native Association.

This is the first of Stabenow's books that I've read. Starting with #17 in a series is not such a great idea. I didn't have any trouble following the plot. At first I was a bit overwhelmed with the number of characters whom I should have already known but Stabenow does a good job of dropping in enough information so that I was able to keep everyone straight. And all the characters receive the attention they deserve. What a great cast!

The plot has lots of twists and turns and concludes satisfactorily. But what I really liked was everything around the plot: the smell of freshly caught salmon roasting over open coals, the often testy relationships and shifting alliances within the Niniltna Native Association, the response of locals to the marketing opportunities that come with the mine, the communal festivities at Old Sam's annual moose roast.

One area that particularly struck me, on this Labor Day, involves the working conditions for the employees at the mine. Workers are confined to the mine for two weeks at a time before they are flown to town for a break because it is too expensive to move them in and out weekly. Also, every payday a few more workers disappear, moving on in search of better work. The plan is to go to month-long shifts once the mine goes into operation, and that only after a battle with a head office that wanted eight-week shifts. Remembering how difficult many workers have it makes me grateful for what I have.

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