Winter at the Door
Sarah Graves
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Buy *Winter at the Door (A Lizzie Snow Novel)* by Sarah Gravesonline

Winter at the Door (A Lizzie Snow Novel)
Sarah Graves
Minotaur Books
432 pages
February 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In Graves’ murder thriller, Boston detective Lizzie Snow has a mere two weeks to prepare after she learns that she’s been fast-tracked for hiring by the office of Aroostook County Sheriff Cody Chevrier in the coastal Maine town of Bearkill. Ostensibly employed as a local police liaison officer to build friendly relationships, Lizzie has actually come to this isolated town to find her niece Nicki, who disappeared some years previously. Her only living kin, all Lizzie has of Nicki is a creased photograph of a nine-year-old girl, worn from frequent handling.

An anonymous tip--Lizzie’s first hint in years--has led her to believe that Nicki is somewhere in northern Maine. Still, Lizzie wonders why she left Boston, or why she is here in Maine at all. Soon enough, Chevrier has begun confiding the real reason that he wants an experienced ex-homicide cop for his department’s small town liaison officer: “there’s a cop killer, way up here in the great North Woods.”

Lizzie’s ex-lover, Maine State Police Detective Dylan Hudson, has also followed her to Bearkill, allegedly on the trail of an investigation into murdered girls in Bangor. The minute Lizzie found out that Dylan was married, she said goodbye him. They’ve seen each other again for the first time only weeks ago, a meeting that Dylan engineered by telling Lizzie he’s found possible clues to missing Nicki’s whereabouts. Now Dylan is in Bearkill, watching Lizzie with doe eyes, and his presence only adds to Lizzie’s shivering sense of disquiet.

Graves writes in fresh, gutsy tones, stepping outside the box of her previous cozy mysteries. Lizzie bristles with originality and ingenuity. With her sister dead, her niece missing, and her big-city murder cop job replaced by life in a “grim little town miles from anywhere,” Lizzie is isolated and discouraged. Returning from her days at the office, at night she sleeps in a crummy rental house on a dead-end street with her “dead-end future” stretching before her. Alone and with no family, Lizzie worries about getting older with nothing but work to keep her warm.

While Lizzie is the fulcrum on which all of the action balances, in this gripping and fast-paced story, none of the characters are as simple or straightforward as they at first appear. Graves moves effortlessly through the action, providing insights into each of the major characters and glimpses of issues unresolved. The past is not a comfortable place, but neither are the present or the future. Just ask Spud, “the Tattoo Kid” who paints himself with body art and piercing--his only way of escaping everything drab and ugly about his life. Spud is anathema in isolated Bearkill; in sense he’s like Lizzie, with her short, spiky hair, blood-red nails, and smoky-dark eye makeup, always meticulously applied.

Lizzie is truly perplexed that Spud has figured out too fast that she’s cop. Nevertheless, she’s drawn to the young man and invites him into her home. Spud is damaged by his abusive drunken, violent father, who spends his days perpetually conked out in front of the television. As Spud attempts to escape by racing though the farm fields by the barns, pastures, and clumps of dark forest that wind all the way to the western horizon, he falls into the company of the “man in the van.” Young, slim, and “coldly impassive,” the man asserts control of Spud with eyes that glitter unpleasantly. In the gloom of the van’s front seat, the man scares Spud half to death.

Lizzie is our gutsy hero even as she makes mistakes where her actions are misinterpreted, her assumptions often incorrect and in which hope remains elusive. She can find no link between the four retired cops whom Chevrier remains convinced were murdered. They were different guys with different jobs; none of them lived near each other or had any cases in common. Neither were they related, nor were their wives. The trail leads Lizzie, Cody and Dylan to a path beyond the Great North Woods, a bleak, snow-filled landscape that is wild and empty of people--“and also full of ways to die.” The cast of characters that inhabit this environment are mostly shady and unattractive, the detritus of a survivalist culture, little groups of people who live off the land and perpetuate the stories about how guys live “like wolves out there” and take hostages at a moment’s notice.

From rumors of a lost hunter to a little blonde girl in danger, Lizzie and Dylan are plunged into this isolated nightmare where guns and methamphetamines are everyday fare. Graves proves she has the chops to be a brilliant thriller author, allowing her beloved Lizzie to swerve ninety-degrees into a“who the hell knows land,” where a rapid, violent shooter has already killed two innocent men, and maybe even more.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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