Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Last Winter of Dani Lancing

By P.D. Viner
Crown Publishers (Random House), 393 pgs
978-0-8041-3682-2
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 2.5

WARNING: Spoiler alert. Proceed at your own risk.

I am flummoxed. The Last Winter of Dani Lancing. Great title. Promising story. Excellent pacing. Good enough dialogue. Unique characters who stay in character. Evocative sense of place. Firmly rooted in genre (this is a first novel for the author and we can quibble over whether or not falling squarely into genre is a good thing, but let's not.) Technical details indicate sufficient research on the part of Mr. Viner. Clues are offered and the foreshadowing often clever. But I cannot for the life of me get it to come together. The parts are greater than the whole.

Dani(elle) is the daughter of Jim and Patty Lancing: bright university student, track star, beautiful (aren't they all?), Daddy's little girl, contentious critic of a career-centered mother, childhood love (obsession) of Tom Bevans who has become a police detective. So far so good. Additionally, Dani is in love with a married man twenty-plus years her senior; she is pregnant; and then there's the raging heroin addiction, which inevitably means she ends up as some dealer's punch and turned out as entertainment for his friends and business associates. Dani goes missing and her body is discovered three weeks later. No arrests were ever made. It is a cold case.

As the story begins, Dani has been dead for twenty years and her ghost has been hanging out with her dad for the last twelve. She showed up when Patty left Jim rather than grind him to a fine powder under the weight of her grief and guilt. Detective Inspector Tom Bevans has gotten word that Dani's case will come up for review due to advances in DNA technology. Samples were taken and have been preserved. Much smaller amounts of DNA can now be reliably tested. There is a DNA database that can be searched for a match. You think this is good news, don't you? Everyone in this story has an ulterior motive. Remember that. The downside of this development is that it could take another four years for this to happen because there are a LOT of cold cases. So Patty hires a private expert, a former pathologist named Keyson (who turns out to be a sociopath with personal and professional reasons to hate DI Bevans,) to try to move things along.
And move things along he does. Right off a cliff.

Remember what I told you to remember? Everyone here has motives of their own. No one is innocent, or even not guilty. Due to the machinations (deus ex machina?) of Dr. Keyson and the fact that Patty has gone nuts, these ensue: kidnapping, torture, assault and battery, murder, car crashes, tampering with evidence, an overdose of Ketamine, bribery, extortion, suicide, loan sharks, seizure disorders, breaking and entering, petty theft, racketeering, snow, foot chases, car chases, comas, chloroform, and acts of God. Yep. And all of it could have been avoided. Do you know why all of these things happened? Because of the trope of "the good girl." Whore or Madonna, make your choice and make it now because you cannot change your mind later and there is no allowance for individuality, complexity or ambiguity. These things happened because a couple of men wanted so badly for the world to believe that Danielle Lancing had been a good girl that, in the final reckoning, they denied her any humanity. They turned her into a doll. The only saving grace for Dani is that she got to deliver the coup de grace at the end of the story. Even if she was a ghost.

I found it difficult to follow The Last Winter of Dani Lancing in the beginning; the narrative jumps back and forth in time so often and it switches points of view constantly. Your brain will try to impose order and I attempted to fight this, go with the flow, and trust the author. Mistake. My main problem with Dani Lancing is that the author seems to have thrown in a little something from every movie he's ever seen. He is a film-maker, after all, and an award-winning one at that. I was with him, willfully suspending incredulity, until about page 346. At that point the number of cliches reached critical mass and I buckled. By page 360 it had become a cartoon.

Deep breath. Which is not to say that Mr. Viner doesn't have promise. He does. Please refer back to the first paragraph of this review. So many individual elements that were sooo good. They just never made a cohesive whole. The author became overwhelmed with plot elements. I will read his sophomore effort, if there is one, and let you know if that incipient promise is realized.

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