Wed
Jan 30 2013 9:30am

Fresh Meat: A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry

A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. HenryA Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry is the second traditional mystery following journalist Troy Chance (available February 5, 2013).

Freelance writer Troy Chance is snapping photos of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival ice palace when the ice-cutting machine falls silent. Encased in the ice is the shadowy outline of a body—a man she knows. One of her roommates falls under suspicion, and the media descends. Troy’s assigned to write an in-depth feature on the dead man, who, it turns out, was the privileged son of a wealthy Connecticut family who had been playing at a blue collar life in this Adirondack village. And the deeper Troy digs into his life and mysterious death, the murkier things become. After the victim’s sister comes to town and a string of disturbing incidents unfold, it’s clear someone doesn’t want the investigation to continue. Troy doesn’t know who to trust, and what she ultimately finds out threatens to shatter the serenity of these mountain towns. She must decide which family secrets should be exposed, what truths should remain hidden, and how far her own loyalty can reach.

A Cold and Lonely Place follows Learning to Swim, for which Sara J. Henry won several awards, including an Agatha and an Anthony. You don’t need to have read Learning to Swim to understand its sequel; there are enough references to previous events that it was easy to follow.

The characterization is very strong, but what attracted me most about the novel was its setting, and the way that setting informs the mystery. It’s cold. Troy lives in Lake Placid, New York, a town familiar to many because it hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics, famous for American Eric Heiden’s five gold medals in speed skating and the so-called “Miracle on Ice,” an unexpected U.S. hockey victory over the Soviet Union. In this novel, Henry shows how Lake Placid has the feel of both a small town and an international destination for athletes who train in their facilities and for tourists. The mixture of inhabitants and transients provides a huge range of possibilities for criminal suspects, and the uninhabited areas, blanketed in snow, provide a sense of menace. Henry’s descriptions are so vivid, I almost felt I had visited Lake Placid and the surrounding Adirondacks towns and villages.

The natural world and the weather informs how both locals and visitors structure their year. Winter becomes a centerpiece.

For the first few months of winter, [Lake Flower] is an expanse of frozen nothingness. Then, seemingly overnight, an enormous palace of ice appears, blocks melded together with a mortar of frozen slush, infused by colored lights that turn it into a fairy-tale castle. You can wander through it, footsteps crunching, breath forming icy clouds, and feel a sense of wonder you haven’t felt since you were a child. It’s part of the fabric of this town, and the flow of winter is based around it.

Troy’s perspective on how she’d had to adapt to the weather made me feel cold, even though I was reading while inside an overheated building. Her point of view adds an extra level of chill to the crime. The victim is discovered early on in an unusual and extremely dramatic manner.

As we reached the circle of men they stepped back, and Matt and I looked down. What I saw looked at first like a shadow under the ice—a dark mass, debris somehow caught up in cast-off clothing and trapped underneath as the ice had formed. I was wondering why the crew didn’t simply move on to clean ice when I realized the mass had a shape, a human shape. You could see something that looked like eyes and a mouth that seemed open. Right about then Matt grabbed my arm and walked me away from the thing under the ice. We stopped about ten feet away and I sank to my heels, trying to process what I thought I’d seen. Matt whipped out a walkie-talkie and began barking orders as he gestured the men farther back. For once my journalistic instincts had shut down, and I had no urge to record any of this. I could still envision that face under the ice, as if it were looking at me through a rain-distorted window. And it was a face I knew.

…Off drove the truck, to a heated municipal garage, I imagined, where they’d wait for the ice to melt from around Tobin’s body. Or someone would chip away at it.

A Cold and Lonely Place is excellent both as a mystery and as a novel, but be prepared with a blanket and some hot cocoa before you begin reading!

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Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories.  Her World War I-set Spice Brief, “Under Her Uniform”, is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.

Read all posts by Victoria Janssen for Criminal Element.

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1 comment
Clare Toohey
1. clare2e
I really enjoyed Sara's debut--the opening which happens during a ferry ride across bitterly cold water is as exciting and visceral as any I've read. She has a gift, I think, for making these natural environments more dangerously real than the mere postcard pictures they serve as in some novels.
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