A Season to Lie by Emily Littlejohn is the second Detective Gemma Monroe novel, where a twisted killer stalks his prey in the dead of winter.
It’s winter in the Rockies. Add in a brutal blizzard, hardly any daylight, and a bleak and terrible murder, and you’ve got the winning combo for an intriguing mystery.
The second novel by author Emily Littlejohn, A Season to Lie follows detective Gemma Monroe as she makes her way back from maternity leave and straight into a complex murder. It’s been three months since Gemma had her baby, and she is feeling a little rusty. But there’s a strange murder to solve involving a bestselling author, Delaware Fuente, who's been staying incognito in their peaceful town of Cedar Valley, Colorado. When the killer leaves behind a cryptic note in the dead man’s mouth that claims, “This is only the beginning,” the chase is on.
As Gemma puts it, “Death is coming, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”
Things grow more complicated when, at the local private school, Valley Academy, there’s a graffiti artist with a masochistic bent that might be connected to the murder. Someone's been tagging buildings with an image of the Grim Reaper and then torturing students by way of forcing them to commit various crimes based on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Not surprisingly, the perpetrator becomes known as “Grimm.”
As a blizzard swirls around them, Gemma and her partner, Finn, must figure out who killed Fuente before more promised victims perish as well as out this Grimm character before things get more serious. No small feat.
Littlejohn brings a no-nonsense approach to her second Gemma Monroe novel, which features a clean plot and clear and concise writing that is peppered with eloquent prose. She brings the reader into the mind of Gemma with ease while also describing the breathtaking scenery that leaves the reader feeling the cold and smelling the surrounding trees.
In early February, at the peak of winter, darkness comes early to the Rockies. A particular coldness takes hold and the wind blows in hard, gathering speed and strength as it races down from the high peaks and crosses the continental divide before hitting the Great Plains and dispersing its energy like seeds tumbling from a farmer’s hands.
The merry lights lent the dark canyon good cheer; without them, I was reminded once again that we were truly in the belly of the cold season now. Cedar Valley should have felt cozy, hunkered down in that suspended dreamlike time between the holidays and the three months of snow still before us. We were on the B list for ski towns, and though we drew our fair share of tourists, we were off the beaten path. We didn’t have the glitz of Aspen or the easy access of Breckenridge and Vail, nor did we have the hot springs of Steamboat. I knew that the slight edge of remoteness gave us a false sense of security.
I felt haunted by the starkness of the scene: naked aspens, virgin snow, yellow tape, and black crow.
Two themes continue coming to the surface in this tale: beginnings and fairy tales. There are many beginnings here, including Gemma’s newborn baby, a fresh start to Gemma and Brody’s relationship, a first murder, and even Fuente’s alter ego, John Firestone, which he’s taken on to teach at Valley Academy. Each is symbolic of the specific situation, yet they congeal to become a part of the overall story. The Grimm character and his penchant for using fairy tales to bring misery to the students along with references to relationships being fairy tales and even the setting of Fuente’s local childhood friend and her isolated cabin in the woods tie the fairy tale theme together masterfully.
I also like that Gemma’s character is more on the realistic side in her views and how she tackles life. For example, this thought:
We tell ourselves that we, as sworn officers of the law, control the crime scene. We take charge when we arrive. We make order from chaos and apply rules to havoc. In this manner, we uncover secrets, find evidence, and move in pursuit of the guilty.
The truth is that’s all a bunch of lies.
With winter right around the corner and cold weather already here, it was wonderful to cuddle up under some blankets with a warm drink and dive into this world. Gemma is a great character, and Cedar Valley is beautiful, charming, and quaint. I was left wanting to read more about it all.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.