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Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Atmospheric Small Town Mystery Series Uses My Favorite Formula to Reel Me In

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Only one thing could have enticed homicide detective Lizzie Snow to move from Boston to tiny Bearkill, Maine.  And it's not her new job as a community liaison officer.  Or the fact that the man who broke her heart, but still makes it beat faster than anyone else ever has, lives only a couple counties away.  No, she moved to the edge of the Great North Woods for only one reason—to find her niece, who went missing from Eastport eight years ago.  An anonymous tip hinting that Nicki may be in Arostook County brought her to the wilderness area.  Lizzie won't leave it until she combs every inch of the remote region in search of her only living relative.  

While Lizzie has her own, personal reasons for taking the job in Bearkill, Sheriff Cody Chevrier hopes her homicide experience will help him solve a string of mysterious deaths involving former police officers.  It's the main problem on his mind, but Bearkill has plenty of others.  If he can convince Lizzie to stick around, he's sure she'll prove the perfect person to set his town to rights.

Despite her boss's warnings, Lizzie can't believe anything more sinister than schoolboy pranks really goes down in Bearkill.  She's wrong.  Evil is already stalking the little town—and it's landed right on Lizzie's doorstep.  Can she stay alive long enough to solve Bearkill's mysteries?  Already occupied with town business and worried about the blizzard that's blowing in, will Lizzie be able to achieve her real goal?  With everything else that's going down, can she follow the clues she's been given and find her niece?  Or will a killer stop Lizzie before she ever gets the chance?

Have you ever wondered what I consider the perfect formula for a mystery series?  I'm sure this burning question has been keeping you up at night, so I'll answer it for you.  First, you need a small town setting with dark secrets simmering below its benign surface.  Add in a cast of compelling townspeople hiding skeletons in their closets; a nosy detective/reporter/P.I. with an intriguing back story; and a gripping plot that keeps me guessing.  Bind it all together with solid prose and, voilá, I'm hooked!  Easy cheesy, right?  Not so much.  That's why finding a new series that fits the bill makes me happy, even giddy.  

So, when I heard about the Lizzie Snow series by Sarah Graves, I knew I had to check it out.  I'm so glad I did.  Winter at the Door, the first book, introduces the intrepid Detective Snow.  She's an understated heroine, though a complex and fully developed one.  Which isn't to say we know everything about her right off the bat.  Not at all.  Graves doles out the policewoman's details slowly, strategically, carefully reeling readers in until she's got them hooked.  Bearkill also comes alive in the book, giving the story a strong sense of place.  While the plot of Winter at the Door doesn't offer a lot of surprises, it definitely kept me reading.  That, coupled with a likable heroine and an atmospheric backdrop made this novel enjoyable for me.  I hadn't even reached the middle of the series debut before I was on my library's website reserving the next installment.  If you're looking for a captivating new mystery series, give this one a go.  Personally, I can't wait to see what the tough, but kindhearted Lizzie Snow does next. 

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Julia Keller's Bell Elkins series [A Killing in the Hills; Bitter River; Summer of the Dead; Last Ragged Breath; and Sorrow Road] just less edgy)   


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, blood/gore, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Oooo! You know, I haven't been into mysteries since my teens but you're really tempting me here. I'm starting to crave them again.

    1. Come back to the dark side, Jenny. I dare you ...

  2. I like your 'perfect formula'; this is one mystery series I'll definitely be checking out. Thanks! :)

  3. Yes, that's a great formula - and it's one I share with you. I've had this book on my Kindle and one my radar for a while. I did know that there was a second book published in January maybe? Anyway, moving this one up my list.

    1. I really enjoyed this one. It's not as masterful as a Louise Penny novel, but I found it compelling.

      I'll be reviewing the recently-published second book in the series (which I also enjoyed) sometime in the next few days.

  4. Per your formula, the "cast of compelling townspeople with skeletons in their closets" would be the thing that draws me in.

    I'll have to put "Winter" on my list.


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