Pardon the length of this review, but this book deserves a serious critique. Don’t worry, it’s almost all good. I had a lot of fun with Ice Shear in part because of its intrinsically good writing and in part because of happy happenstance.
The author paints word pictures brilliantly. Every scene and setting comes to life – a room, a building, a neighborhood. You feel like you’re right there. The tiny quirks and foibles a character displays are given just the right amount of detail so they seem real, too. Put another way, the author just plain knows how to write!
The story takes place in upstate New York in winter in a small town, once a thriving mill town but now a deteriorating shell subsisting on a meager summer tourist trade. For a Silicon Valley native like me, it seemed rather exotic. I have been there once long ago and it struck me as Deliverance with snow. The author is from there, it seems, and did a great job of conveying the look and feel of the place. It’s also very well edited, with almost no errors of any kind.
Now for the happenstance part. I checked this book out from the Campbell library, a small town bordering San Jose. I saw the author used initials rather than a first name, which to me with mysteries signifies a female author trying to hide her sex. In that genre macho male names sell better. I thought, “Oh no, another chick lit mystery.” So I turned to the back cover to check, and imagine my surprise when I read that not only was I right, but that she lives in … Campbell, She could be in the library standing right next to me. I actually looked around to see if I could spot her. But wait! There’s more! I also noticed that the main character, a woman, is a former FBI agent. So am I. (Former FBI agent, that is, not a woman). So of course I had to turn to the acknowledgments to see who her law enforcement advisers were. One I know to be a former officer with a large agency I worked closely with for years. The other I didn’t recognize. If either had been an FBI agent, I would have known him. That explains why the local police work stuff was very well done and FBI stuff, not so much. (FYI, the proper acronym is ASAC, not ASAIC). Oh, and one last thing: I write mystery novels too. I hope Ms. Cooley continues this series, but she needs an FBI consultant if she’s going to. Maybe she’ll ask me if she can find me.
To be clear, I don’t know the author, those officers, or anyone else associated with this book, directly or indirectly, but this inside connection made the book more fun. There are some “Easter eggs” hidden in there. For example, one major character is an FBI agent named Hale Bascom. The San Jose FBI Office (actually located a few blocks over the city line into Campbell) is located on Bascom Ave.! I used to work there when it was at the earlier location farther north on Bascom. I also liked the “breast fed” line. I hadn’t heard that one before.
Okay, so I had fun with it and no doubt that fifth star comes from my personal connection, but it is a good read. It has its flaws. The plot and characters are quite formulaic, but it is a tried and true formula that seems to work. Don’t look for originality here. The beat cop heroine is a single mom who had to move back to her home town so her lovable but curmudgeonly father can care for her adorable and precociously bright daughter while she makes a living. The slick and smarmy FBI agent “suit” comes barreling into town trying to horn in on the locals’ murder case. You have your outlaw biker gang, the overbearing congresswoman (victim’s mother), the very rich (and therefore total jerk) father, your stolid local cop partner, the District Attorney trying to take all the credit. The plot isn’t much better.
In my view, a good murder mystery is written in such a way that one of two things happens as one gets near the end. Either I figure out from the clues who did it and why and get to feel smug and victorious or I don’t, but the big reveal at the end has me smacking my forehead saying to myself “Why didn’t I see that one coming.” This did neither. The ending had the definite feel of almost a random selection. It’s as though the author and editor got together as the book was almost done and said, “Who shall we make the murderer?” There were no clues that suggested the actual murderer any more than any of the other characters, or perhaps more accurately, there were equal clues pointing to all the possible characters. Of course Agatha Christie did this all the time, too, and look where that got her.
This is no chick lit mystery either. There was no description of the heroine’s cute outfits and name brand shoes or how cut the handsome agent was with his shirt off. There was even a good action scene at the end, although it defied credibility in more ways than I would have liked. The bottom line was that I read through it eagerly and enjoyed the whole thing. Give it a try.