Suspense thrillers are not my normal reading fare, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was absorbed from the outset by Jenny Milchman’s Cover of Snow. I was even more pleased as I continued reading and found a complex puzzle. The clues piled up, and I enjoyed exercising my “Nancy Drew” gene along with the protagonist, trying to sort out reality from red herrings.
Nora Hamilton, a young wife who has moved with her husband to a small town in the Adirondacks, wakes up one morning to find her husband missing. He is a police officer, but she is sure she would have known if he had been called out. The chill in the bathroom and the kitchen as she searches for him are only a hint of the iciness which will be a constant presence throughout the book. Nora finds her husband’s body hanging in a back stairwell. He has not left a note, and he had seemed content with his job and with his wife. In fact, they had shared a romantic evening the night before his suicide. She soon discovers that he had drugged her wine that night so she would sleep soundly; the suicide was not an impulsive act.
After her initial numbness, Nora begins to search for answers. She feels she didn’t know her husband at all, and wants to understand what drove him to take his own life. She has never felt accepted in the town, although she and Brendan have lived there for several years, and his family has been there for generations. Now she feels even more like an outsider. Her questions are met with resistance, both from Brendan’s family, particularly his rigid and unloving mother, and from his friends on the police force.
Nora pursues the answers she needs to put her mind at rest through stonewalling that would have discouraged a less strong-willed person. She is driven by the need of a survivor of a suicide to understand why. She also begins to sense that there is more going on in the town than the loss of one police officer. She is a character I empathized with, and I was compelled to keep reading, wanting her to find the resolution she needs.
The atmosphere of this novel is one of constant cold. The Adirondack area in January is described in detail, and the title says it all. The book jacket is one of the most suitable ones I have seen in a long time; it conveys the ambiance perfectly. There is constant snow, from little icy pellets to huge soft flakes. The roads are dangerous, and I sometimes worried that Nora would die in a snow drift before she uncovered the secrets she sought. The climate is perfect for the residents of the town who, with a few exceptions, are also icy cold.
I hate the cold, and I could feel it penetrating as I read Cover of Snow. It is a tribute to the plotting and character of Nora that I kept reading avidly in every spare moment despite my discomfort. It is hard to give much detail about specific events without including spoilers, but the conclusion satisfyingly ties up loose ends and explains the seemingly inconsistent evidence Nora discovers on her quest.
Jenny Milchman is appearing at my store next week, and that event was my motivation for reading a book which is not a typical choice for me. I am pleased I didn’t miss out on Cover of Snow, as I might have if left to my own devices. Both the heart pounding suspense and the complex mystery made it a gripping read.