The first book in a new crime series, Winter at the Door introduces Lizzie Snow, a Boston cop turned police chief, now ensconced in the remote town of Bearkill in northern Maine’s Aroostook County, which runs right up against the Canadian border. Bearkill barely manages the necessities with a supermarket, Laundromat, luncheonette and corner bar appropriately named Area 51.
It’s not her first choice for a working venue, but the “grim little town miles from anywhere” may offer a clue to the whereabouts of Lizzie’s young niece, Nicki, who went missing after her mother’s death eight years before. The child’s body was never found, and Lizzie desperately hopes there is substance to a slim lead involving a youngster who’s living somewhere in this area.
Besides adjusting to a new location and searching Maine’s dark corners on her personal quest, Lizzie is confounded by a spate of mysterious crimes and a killer who lurks just out of reach. The deaths are one reason Lizzie’s smart and steady new boss, Sheriff Cody Chevrier, is counting on her fresh eyes to separate what looks like accident from premeditated murder. There are many puzzles to decipher in Winter at the Door, and the primary one is why so many local ex-cops are suddenly meeting an unexpected death.
Another conundrum involves Lizzie’s former lover and the cause of her recent heartbreak, state police detective Dylan Hudson. Dylan is the source of the information on Nicki, but how much substance is there to his timely lead?
This twisted, gritty tale is full of wintry touches, but for all of its atmosphere it takes a surprisingly superficial approach, even with a potentially fascinating cast of characters. Many scenes sacrifice depth and nuance for a screenplay veneer, and Dylan lacks the panache to be a devastatingly attractive lover. Still, the snow-muffled setting works well, leading readers into the heart of a thankless and dangerous darkness, one that will continue to lure as the series progresses.