Feb 06, 2013 — In the opening scene of Sara J. Henry's new novel, a body is found in Lake Flower, frozen into the ice near the village of Saranac Lake. Betsy Kepes has this review of A Cold and Lonely Place.
Sara J. Henry found a great way to begin her second novel. It’s almost time for Winter Carnival in Saranac Lake and a crew is out on the lake cutting blocks for the Ice Palace. The narrator of the book, Troy Chance, is a journalist with the local paper and she has her camera with her when the ice cutters discover a body frozen in the ice, the body of a man she knows.
The dead man, Tobin Winslow, was a handsome drifter who lived in a cabin outside of the village, a man who came from money and sometimes drank too much at the local bars. No one knows much about his life before Saranac Lake and, smelling a story, the editor of Troy’s newspaper gives her a big assignment; she’s to write about the life of Tobin Winslow in a three part series. Of course, this means research.
Troy Chance is an unlikely detective. She lives close to the bone in a big old house in Lake Placid and rents out rooms to athletes, preferring men because, she says, “they don’t care if you don’t feel like talking and they don’t get involved with your life, except around the edges.” She made an exception when she rented a room to Jessamyn Fields, a thin, quiet woman who keeps to herself and works as a waitress at a local steak house. When asked, Jessamyn says vaguely she is from the mid-west but as Troy says, “People who ended up here often had something they wanted to leave behind, something they didn’t talk about.” Jessamyn and Tobin shared that sentiment, and they were a couple when Tobin disappeared.
What I enjoy most about a murder mystery is feeling actively involved in the book. Every character introduced is a possible suspect, especially the people who seem to have no motive at all. The cabin where Tobin lived is ransacked a day after his sister arrives in town. Someone lets the air out of the tires of Troy’s car and Tobin’s truck hasn’t been seen since he disappeared.
It’s especially fun to read a mystery set in a place I know. The characters order pizza from Mr. Mike’s and Troy walks her dog around Mirror Lake when she’s trying to work out clues. When Troy goes to a bar to talk to Tobin’s friends, they don’t have much to say. According to Troy: “ This was the Adirondacker code of silence: what went down in the bar stayed in the bar.”
Sara J. Henry spins a good story, with a couple of twists at the end I didn’t see coming. Her writing is serviceable and to the point, a legacy of her work as a sports journalist in Lake Placid. She adds bits of humor that lighten the mood. When Troy welcomes a Canadian detective and friend she says, “we exchanged the clumsy, well-insulated hug you do when wearing heavy parkas, somewhat like hugging a sofa.” Henry lets her protagonist, Troy Chance, be a loveable curmudgeon as well as a keen-eyed observer of human nature. As Troy says, “Almost no one steps out of the life they think has been selected for them unless something pushes them from it.” In the best scenes in this book, the reader begins to understand why a wealthy young man would leave behind a privileged life to come to the remote world of the Adirondacks.