Author: Margaret Coel
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
The author paints a picture of a white world with her very first line. So powerful was the sense of imagery that she created that I felt myself in the scene.
The book begins with the third person point of view of Vicky Holden, an Arapaho lawyer. Clint Hopkins, fellow lawyer, seeks her help as co-counsel on an adoption case involving an Arapaho couple, Eldon and Myra Little Shield, who wish to adopt a five-year-old white girl, named Mary Anne, who had been abandoned on their doorstep while she was a baby.
Since then the Little Shields have raised and loved her as their own. Now they want to formalise the adoption so nobody can take her away from them.
They approach Clint to handle what should have been a clear case of an abandonment, making the adoption a sure thing. Yet Clint finds cause for grave anxiety, something that gets him killed.
A truck mows him down on the street, killing him instantly, before he has the opportunity to discuss the case with Vicky. Since Clint was the kind of lawyer that carried his notes in his head, Vicky has to start from scratch, making it harder for her to retrace his steps, to learn what he learned, to find the thing that killed him, even with the fear that it might threaten her.
Meanwhile she is busy trying to get Vince, a first-time felon with a drinking problem, to surrender and get rehabilitation.
Fr John O’Malley is the parish priest at St Francis Church for the last 10 years. James Two Horses is a parishioner who serves at mass and thinks he may have a vocation.
Shannon, Fr O’Malley’s niece, comes over to stay at the parish to work on her doctoral thesis on Elizabeth Fletcher, one of two sisters captured by Arapaho Indians. The other sister Amanda had been rescued after six months, but Liz had lived her whole life as Lizzie Brokenhorn, an Arapaho woman, eventually birthing children and caring for grandchildren. At the time of the capture, Amanda had been 17, but Lizzie had been only 2 years old.
Fr O’Malley arranges for Shannon to meet Lizzie Brokenhorn’s relatives. History, Shannon knows, only tells part of the story. This is where we get to know about Lizzie. This part of the story was extremely fascinating. I wished the author had gone into greater detail.
James and Shannon are thrown together and get closer as a result. The beginning of the spark between them is beautifully described. I enjoyed reading about the conversations between James and Shannon, how their words matter to each other, how they hang on to every word.
Winter is everywhere in this story. It is almost a character, a powerful one, so pervasive is its presence and influence. We are overwhelmingly suffused by the cold; there is no getting away from it. The description of the winter appealed to me. They served to reinforce the title, for one.
For a long time, it feels as if the stories of the Little Shields and Vince had no relation with each other. But somewhere along the story, the stories of all the characters converge.
As the lead character, Vicky suffered from us not knowing much about her back story. Of course, we know she is dogged, even giving up meals in pursuit of the truth. We are given some sketchy information but not enough for us to make connections or even understand her. Towards the latter half, we come to know she has a son and a daughter who live in another state, but their relationship seems so remote, I couldn’t wait to get through it. Also, her tenuous connection with Fr O’Malley is not elaborated upon.
I wondered what this story would have been like if we had entered it from the viewpoint of the couple. I liked the description of Eldon and Myra, particularly the bits of details that were given to us in the form of Vicky’s impressions.
I liked the description of death: So many deaths, and yet each one a shock, a disruption of nature, a realignment of the world.
Clint has his own secrets but they don’t have much bearing on the story, even though they occupy a lot of space in the story. For some reason, the author focused too much attention on these irrelevant bits. Properly edited, this book could have been much tighter and shorter.
I found it interesting to read about confession from the standpoint of a Catholic priest. A sense that came from years of watching people shift about in their chairs, avoid his eyes, clasp their hands together, and, finally unburden themselves.
All in all, not a novel I’d recommend.
(I read an ARC from First To Read.)
(I read an ARC from First To Read.)