In Winter Chill the Larsens are your typical American family until their world is ripped apart by a snowmobile accident in which their young daughter is killed and Dan Larsen is paralysed. Whilst to their friends and neighbours the Larsens adjust to their daughter Laura’s death; behind closed doors it is a different story, both are struggling to cope. As the Larsens begin to self-destruct, the town has to cope with a series of tragic accidents that claim more lives in the rural winter idyll.
Knowing nothing about the author or her previous works I requested this book to review solely based on the blurb, and the blurb makes Winter Chill sound like a fast paced mystery. Sadly that wasn’t the case. Very little action happens in the first half of the book, the early chapters are dedicated to the humdrum of the Larsens life – from shopping to cooking (after some research, I found out that Joanne Fluke is famous for a series of culinary mysteries, which explains the heavy presence of food). There are glimmers of what is to come, such as Dan’s sleepwalking and Marian’s mood swings, but these only really add to the story much later on, when they build into something more significant. The pace improves towards the end of the book, as does the action as we start getting ‘accidents’ happening to those close to the Larsen family, but the really good stuff is not until the final chapter.
Whilst slow, the story generally flows well, moving seamlessly between perspectives. There are two exceptions, both in the form of unneeded and out of place sex scenes. The adultery between Marian and Drew would be more fitting in a Mills and Boon story than in Winter Chill. It made uncomfortable reading (no, I’m not a prude), and what’s worse is that is simply swept under the rug after a few pages, despite Marian having confessed to Dan. The second scene between Cliff and Connie makes more sense, but doesn’t really advance the plot apart from providing a simple excuse to allow the killer access to them at the same time. Plot wise, there are some sticking points for me such as the lack of forensics and the seeming disinterest of the local sheriff in doing any investigation, despite clues pointing squarely at one family. The biggest let down was the fact that at the end of the book we don’t actually get told who the killer is, there are some strong indications but it could be one of two people depending on your interpretation. Some readers may like this, but for me personally it was frustrating and felt like a waste of several hours of reading.
There is a heavy emphasis on the psychological states of the two lead characters, and this provides an interesting dimension to the plot, but I feel it could have been used differently in order to maximise the effect. Also interesting were the notes back and forth between ‘Laura’ and Marian, particularly the last note.
Overall Winter Chill is a cosy mystery (if you overlook the sex) with an interesting psychological aspect. It’s not a book I enjoyed or would recommend, mainly due to the lack of pace and plot issues, but it should appeal to those who enjoy a slower, more character driven read (and must have done previously as this is a re-release of a 80s paperback). If you are not sure if Winter Chill is for you then you can try it yourself by reading the available pages on GoogleBooks.
Winter Chill will be available as an e-book from today on Amazon UK for £4.31 and from Amazon US for $6.63.
[A review copy was received through NetGalley]