Thin Ice: A Mystery
"Thin Ice is primed for a sequel."
Author Paige Shelton is the prolific NYT bestselling author of several cozy mystery series including the Farmers Market Mysteries, Country Cooking School Mysteries, A Dangerous Type Mystery Series, The Scottish Bookshop Mystery Series, and others.
This new book, the first in her Wild Alaska Series, is intended to be a breakaway from the comfort of cozy mystery to something darker and grittier. However, you can take the author out of the cozy, but you can't always take cozy out of the author. Much of Thin Ice reads like a cozy with the same tone, tenor, and rhythm found in that popular mystery subgenre. Cozy is definitely there especially in the beginning pages.
In the story, Beth Rivers, well known as thriller writer Elizabeth Fairchild, checks herself out of the hospital where she's being treated for brain damage and other serious injuries suffered as the result of an assault and kidnapping by one of her fans. Seeking safety, she's run off to the tiny town of Benedict, Alaska, forsaking her pending medical treatments.
Upon her arrival in Benedict, she is surprised to find that she has mistakenly reserved a room in a halfway house for female ex-cons instead of the quiet, quaint Benedict House hotel she'd expected. Nevertheless, she is determined to settle into a new life despite having arrived ill-prepared without cold weather gear and little cash or resources.
So traumatized over her kidnapping, she remembers almost nothing about it. She doesn't remember being taken, what happened during the three days she was held prisoner, or what her kidnapper looked like. She knows his name is Levi Brooks, and that he's never been caught.
As a result, she's skittish as a colt, jumping out of her skin at every unexpected sound, sudden movement, or side glance. Even the sight of a black and red lumberjack jacket triggers a PTSD response. Beth knows such behavior is out of the norm, but she's unable to control it:
"I gritted my teeth and held my breath. I understood my post-traumatic reaction, and I also understood it was uncalled for. It was as if I was operating in two different but parallel realms. I knew normal, remembered it, could see it there next to me. But I was in that other realm, where the monsters lived."
She meets a variety of likable and interesting locals, some of whom are running away or hiding out just as she is. Because of her mystery writing experience, the local sheriff asks her to become a volunteer crime consultant. She agrees thinking it will help heal her post traumatic issues, but also, because she has written a book where one of her characters was in that particular line of work:
"After all, that had been my first victim's job. Fictionally speaking, of course. 37 Flights had introduced Hailey Boston, who was attacked inside a corporate building where she was working one evening. The entire book had been one night of cat and mouse as . . ."
Beth continues on and on with a rather lengthy narrative describing her book to which one of the ex-cons replies, "My goodness, that sounds boring. . . ."
Beth eventually finds herself in the midst of an investigation. A local woman, Linda Rafferty, is found dead, and there's a question of suicide or murder. From here, the story thread of Beth's kidnapping morphs into the investigation of Linda Rafferty's death. Only one of those mysteries is solved at the end signaling a possible sequel.
Throughout the book, Beth continues to experience flashbacks that release buried memories of her kidnapping:
"My patchy memory had managed to dredge up the facts that Levi's van was brown and either said Chevy, Chevrolet, or had a Chevrolet emblem somewhere on it . . ."
There are a few instances in this slow moving somewhat talky novel where the reader might question the validity of Beth's reaction to her circumstances. On the way to Benedict in a bush plane, having just escaped from the hospital, injured, in pain, and terrified, her demeanor seems a bit out of character.
Even so, readers will sympathize with Beth, and be enthralled with the colorful descriptions of Alaska:
". . . Alaska's geography was so big that other things seemed smaller than they normally would, things like Hank's plane and Benedict's downtown.
" . . . Benedict House took up most of the corner, but there was also a bar named, 'Saloon' and a restaurant named 'Food' on one side of the corner. The other side held a 'Mercantile' and a 'Post Office.' A statue of a friendly-looking bear stood in front of the whole setup."
Thin Ice is primed for a sequel.