cover image COLD


John Smolens, . . Harmony/Shaye Areheart, $22 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-609-60794-7

Set in Michigan's cold, harsh Upper Peninsula, this third novel by Smolens (Angel's Head, etc.) uses its frigid backdrop as the perfect setting for an astute examination of six lives wrecked by fate, betrayal and tragedy. Norman Haas, an inmate at a nearby prison, turns up nearly frozen and starved on the isolated property of Liesl Tiomenen, a widow whose life was derailed by the deaths of her husband and daughter in a car crash. Liesl has a gun, and she decides to escort Norman into town on foot, since the snow is too deep for driving. When she falls and can't get up again, Norman leaves her alone in the snow. Though he was jailed for assaulting his older outlaw brother, Warren, and pill-popping girlfriend, Noel, who were cheating on him together, Norman still loves Noel and is determined to return and set things straight. Heading home through a relentless blizzard, he picks up Noel and their three-year-old daughter, Lorraine, and together the three hole up in a lodge deep in the snowy woods. Meanwhile, Liesl has been rescued; recovering, she joins forces with dogged local sheriff Del Maki to find Norman, though both suspect he got a raw deal from the law. When all of the major players—including treacherous Warren and Noel's sinister father—come together for the final confrontation, nothing prepares the reader for the startling chain of events that lead to a violent, shattering ending. Smolens's skill in rendering scenes of stunning brutality and uncommon tenderness, his crisp dialogue, vigorous writing style and keen descriptive powers all make this a first-rate thriller. Agent, Noah Lukeman.(Sept.)

Forecast: A rave blurb from Jim Harrison suggests the cut-above quality of this excellent thriller. Smolens's previous novels were critically acclaimed, and this one should help build his readership.