Winter by Degrees

John Smolens, Author Dutton Books $16.95 (213p) ISBN 978-0-525-24724-1
This atmospheric but rather punchless mysterythe author's firstunfolds over one long weekend in the frozen coastal town of Newburyport, Mass. Estranged from his wife and son and faced with an economically lean winter, Nelson Rideout scrapes by in odd jobs as a salvager with his dissolute brother Tuna. When their assistant, a local character named Iver Smyth, abruptly disappears and his body turns up in the frozen Merrimack River, it is assumed that he drowned accidentally, but some suspect that he was pushed through the ice. Investigating, Nelson learns that Tuna had been hired to strongarm Smyth into repaying a loan, and he begins to hunt for other enemies in Iver's past. At the top of the list are the Smyths themselves, an old-money family that doesn't seem particularly distressed at the fate of its black sheep. Smolens evokes Newburyport and its residents observantly, but he rations the plot twists, family skeletons and jolts of suspense with disappointing stinginess. Even the climax, complete with a chase through the woods, flying bullets and a nick-of-time rescue, feels creaky and mechanical. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1989
Release date: 01/01/1989
Mass Market Paperbound - 978-0-380-70943-4
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