Monday, December 2, 2013

A Cold and Lonely Place

By Sara J. Henry
Broadway/Crown/Random House, 294 pgs
Submitted by Crown Publishing Group
Rating: 4.0

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. - Ian MacLaren (Rev. John Watson)

It is winter in Lake Placid, New York, the Adirondacks, and so bitterly bone-numbingly cold that your eyelashes will freeze if you stay out for any length of time, say, three minutes. Winter is a character here, imposing itself on everyone and everything. It must be respected. (I have a dear friend who contends that hell is actually cold.) The land, the Adirondacks, is also a character, integral to the plot. Troy Chance, freelance journalist, is covering the construction of the annual Winter Carnival ice palace for the local newspaper. This entails lots of men and heavy equipment and gigantic blocks of ice. They dig these ice blocks out of Saranac Lake to construct the ice palace. All is going according to plan until they find that one of the ice blocks they dig up contains the body of Tobin Winslow, a newly-arrived-in-town mystery man.

Troy knew Tobin; he dated Jessamyn, one of Troy's (Troy is a she) housemates. Tobin has been missing for weeks and everyone assumed he had just blown out of town the same way he blew in. There are no visible injuries to the body and no obvious cause of death. Is it murder, suicide or accident? And if the death was not murder then where is Tobin's truck? Jessamyn, of course, is suspected early on because she's the girlfriend. Troy herself is questioned as a housemate of the dead man's girlfriend. And no, she didn't like Tobin at all. She considered him little more than a frat boy slumming it, for reasons of his own, in an insular hard-scrabble mountain town.

Troy's editor at the paper asks her to write a series of articles on Tobin's life. She reluctantly agrees and as soon as she begins researching and asking questions a hornet's nest buzzes to furious life. In short order there are: hang-up calls in the middle of the night, threatening emails and notes, someone lets the air out of her tires, someone breaks into Tobin's cabin and ransacks the place. The further Troy probes the murkier the story becomes. Then Tobin's sister Win arrives in Lake Placid, drawn by the articles Troy has written. The two quickly form a dynamic duo to find out what happened to Tobin Winslow.

There are no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that the secrets uncovered among family and friends of the deceased are potent enough to scramble your brain and require years of therapy. Page 195 is a whopper, I'm telling you. The metaphor is keys. Keys figure prominently. Tobin's keys are missing. He kept a key under a flowerpot on his porch and who knew it was there? Turns out there's a safe deposit box but where is the key to it? No one locks their doors in this neck of the Adirondacks but they begin to do so before this story is finished.

Problems first, get them out of the way, there are only a couple. First, there is a subplot involving Jessamyn and her long-lost father that struck me as a distraction. I wanted to swat it like a housefly. Second, the last chapter should've been titled "Epilogue." Each character is addressed in his or her own paragraph or two, telling you exactly what happened to everyone involved, laid out for us as if we were middle-schoolers. I could visualize the big red bow tied around the story. But those are minor stumbles, really.

Sara J. Henry
A Cold and Lonely Place is a good mystery. It is not a thriller; there's no gore; and it's not particularly suspenseful, at least not in the way we've come to understand the term in the time of James Patterson, et al. I don't recall even the suggestion of blood. This novel doesn't need the special effects department; it reminded me strongly of Agatha Christie. Then I discovered that the author's first book won the Agatha Award. Troy Chance is an intriguing character. You don't find many female leads who are flawed and fiercely independent and are allowed to remain so, with no man coming along by the end of the book to melt their defenses, blah blah blah, and everything goes gooey. No thank you. There's no extraneous love story harnessed to the works and do you KNOW what a relief that is?  Instead of improbable romantic entanglements we get to feast on authentic female friendships. Troy remains stubbornly in character throughout the novel, triumphantly imperfect, taking whatever lumps come her way as a result. We don't even know what Troy looks like. Read that again. Here: WE DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT TROY LOOKS LIKE. The freedom is heady, yes?

The plot is well paced. It begins with a bang on page one with the discovery of the body. There are no lulls here but do not expect the story to get in your face or scream at you. It follows you around and whispers, makes suggestions; maybe prods you in the ribs with a finger. The story accrues. If you are patient it will reward you. A Cold and Lonely Place is the second book in Sara J. Henry's series starring journalist Troy Chance, following the Agatha Award-winning debut Learning to Swim. I'm gonna go to the library now and pick up the first book.

And I have exciting news about this one! The lovely folks at Crown have provided me with five copies to give away. Come back tomorrow and found out how to win a copy for yourself or to give as a holiday gift.


  1. Hello! That was a fabulous review btw. Do you have an Amazon name I can follow so I can check out Kindle books without sludging through reviews like, "This book was really, really good but I hated the ending," and other equally descriptive prose? ;)

    Anyway, I definitely want to be entered into the drawing!! I must admit, however, that if I did win, it wouldn't be a Christmas gift for anyone but myself. =) But that's okay, right? I can give all my loved ones huge plates of gooey, caloric loveliness, while I digest a more... palatable form of indulgence. (Haha, couldn't help myself.)

    Thanks for sharing!!
    Eden Hopper

  2. I've had this book on my TBR list for a while now and would love to win a copy of it. Great review!

  3. Reading Learning to Swim next!