Most of us thrive on human contact — spouses, friends, family. But for others who have been wounded by the people they love most, isolation in a cold and lonely place may seem like paradise.
That sense of severing all previous ties and never truly getting close to people permeate Sara J. Henry’s second insightful second novel, A Cold and Lonely Place (Crown,$24). As she did in her 2012 Agatha-winning debut, Learning to Swim, Henry explores the complicated nature of relationships while delivering a suspenseful novel full of unpredictable twists.
Freelance writer Troy Chance is photographing ice cutters on New York’s Saranac Lake as they prepare the ice palace that will grace the annual Winter Carnival near Lake Placid. But the work stops when the body of a man is found just below the ice’s surface. And Troy knows the man quite well — he is Tobin Winslow, the on-again, off-again boyfriend of her roommate, Jessamyn Field.
Troy didn’t especially like Tobin, finding his frequent absences, lack of a job, and “diffident manner” irksome. His attitude gave Troy the impression that he was a rich kid playing at the blue-collar life in the Adirondacks. Troy learns she was right when Tobin’s likable sister, Win, comes to the area to claim his body and settle his affairs.
Was Tobin’s death a tragic accident or was he killed? Working on a major feature story about his life, Troy grows to understand Tobin, why he was estranged from his wealthy parents and what drove him to the remote village. “It’s a cold and lonely place — but it suits me,” Tobin wrote in a note that Troy finds incredibly sad.
A Cold and Lonely Place moves with sharpness of those ice-cutting machines that quickly saw through the frozen lake. The appealing Troy emerges as a three-dimensional character who can empathize with the family woes of Tobin and of Jessamyn since she has her own issues. Henry also includes an intriguing look at a thriving small-town newspaper and journalism ethics and why Troy loves being a reporter. “... losing my connection to this paper would be like being shunned from the first place I felt I belonged,” she says.
The frigid air and near-freezing temperatures that permeate A Cold and Lonely Place are used so well by Henry that readers may find themselves reaching for a sweater and a scarf as the story heats up to its emotional finale.