Christopher Riceís second novel, The Snow Garden, has been described as a psychological thriller and a modern horror story. I found it to be more a chimera of the two, like a cross between The Harrod Experiment and a Patricia Cornwell thriller. Set in Atherton College, the plot is driven by Kathryn, Randall, Jesse and a host of other students. They are freshmen away from home, unbound and free to find themselves or to reinvent themselves. Rice plays the chemist: he has taken several unstable properties, placed them in a contained space, shaken them up and hoped the explosive results will delight his reader. The experiment is successful, to a point.
The first chapter is a taut description of calamity, as someone watches Pamela Milford slide to her death beneath the ice of Inverness Creek. Flash-forward twenty years, and another wintry death occurs: Lisa Eberman dies when her car slips over an embankment and into Inverness Creek. The connection between the two deaths? Eric Eberman, once a student, now a professor at Atherton College, knew both women. Into this mystery Rice throws the enigmatic Randall and his best friend Kathryn, who has a dark secret -- but then again, all of the characters have personal demons. Randall is secretly sleeping with Eric, Jesse is openly sleeping with everyone, and Kathryn is coming to terms with her own sexual history. The story is rife with sexual predators and nasty Svengali-types preying upon young innocents on campus, which leads one to wonder if soul-devouring burdens are the norm for the under-twenty set.
Weighing in at 403 pages, this tome has a good underlying story. If Rice had kept his characters from meandering, it would have been a much better story. Donít get me wrong. I did enjoy the book, but I had to force myself to pick it up and finish it. There are chapters that could have been edited down and lengthy introspective pieces that slowed the pace of an otherwise fast-paced tale. I persevered, and Iím glad I did. From chapter eight on I was a happy reader -- everything flowed beautifully. That being said, I did find the ending to be over the top (think horror master Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes). Will I read another Christopher Rice novel? Sure. I like the way he ties the threads of his stories together, but he needs to pull them a little tighter next time.