There's a mesmerizing new voice in near-noir mystery writing, and it belongs to Jenny Siler. Siler's sophmore effort (after the acclaimed Easy Money), Iced is dark, violent and paradoxically beautiful. Set in the author's hometown of Missoula, Montana, this novel is a lyrical love song to a harsh land, in stark counterpoint to a tale of fear and greed.
Meg Gardner has, for lack of anywhere else to go, come home. After a prison stint in the Southwest, she's returned to Missoula, Montana, hoping for a fairy tale ending to the violent scandal that ruined her family. She soon recognizes the futility of such a dream, and resigns herself to a straight, if stark, existence. She lives alone in a rented house (complete with her landlady's revolver, just in case), occasionally sleeps with a Czech emigre whose love she won't allow herself to return, and is competently working her first "real" job -- repossessing vehicles from delinquent owners for GMAC. It's not an altogether bad way to live, until her family's sordid past collides with a seemingly random act of violence.
Meg is all set for a routine repo of local wilderness guide Clayton Bennett's Jeep when she sees his body being pulled from the river behind a cheap motel. Bennett's death should make Meg's job easier -- if he's not alive, he can hardly protest her taking his vehicle. But the face and name of the young Indian woman charged with stabbing Bennett to death brings the confusion and pain of her childhood vividly into the present. The supposed murderer may be Meg's half-sister, the child of an affair between Meg's lawyer father and a Blackfeet woman, the child who drove Meg's mother to shoot and permanently disable her cheating husband.
Before Meg can deliver the Jeep to GMAC, she is visited and threatened separately by a Russian emigre thug and by a vicious tattooed woman. Both want the contents of the briefcase that was in Bennett's backseat, and Meg can satisfy neither as to her own ignorance. She decides to find out for herself what expensive secret Clayton Bennett was hiding -- or looking for himself -- in the Montanan wilderness that would bring about his death, and that would threaten the lives of Meg and the one person whom she can't bear to see hurt.
Siler's style manages to be simultaneously fast-paced and introspective, and she brilliantly describes a region as foreign and isolate to many Americans as the Australian outback. Her Missoula, Montana, is sleazy, cheap and utterly beautiful underneath it all. As a now-familiar character in the mystery genre, the tough-as-nails female lead, Meg Gardner is exquisite. With luck, Iced will be the kickoff of a long series from Siler starring the hardbitten, witty Meg Gardner.