Andrew Klavan brought this novel out in time for Christmas. I got it for a loved one, and of course I had to pre-read it.
The first thing I noticed was the texture. The jacket, and the book cover beneath it, both have a unique velvety feel that makes you want to pet them. I refrained from petting, and in fact tried to touch the book as little as possible. It is supposed to be a gift, after all.
On to the contents.
This is not the best Andrew Klavan novel I’ve read, but it is still very professional … and very Christmassy.
Klavan introduces a new sleuth, Cameron Winter: handsome, lonely, etc., etc., with a tragic back story that is only partly revealed in this book. Winter is a former (spy?), now an English Lit professor. Is Klavan trying to push the buttons on the female reading population or what? On the plus side, it does allow him to put in as many literary references as he wants, without straining credibility. I also learned some new words, like “homunculus.”
I get the impression Klavan is planning to turn out a Winter series. Also, I might have heard him hint at something like this on air. He’s said that he never before invented a sleuth who seemed to have enough depth to carry a series, but now he thinks he has one.
Of course, Winter’s name makes for many thematic puns in this volume. It was a little hard for me to relate to Winter (too perfect?). He does have that intuitive, beneath-the-surface-of-the-mind method of solving crimes that I love because it’s similar to my own thought processes, and that some of Klavan’s other sleuths have also had. But it’s hard to believe of him, because the rest of him seems too Tortured Golden Boy. For example, one of Klavan’s other sleuths who had this intuitive method was a portly, aging, kindhearted private detective with vices. Lots and lots of vices. His shambling presence made his intuitive methods seem more believable, and also made his sharp mind gleam out like a bright jewel in a dark setting. Not so with Winter. But perhaps Winter will grow on me as the series progresses. Yes, I will give him at least one more book to do so.
I also think that I figured out the setting for this book! Sweet Haven is a little town surrounded by wooded hills, set near a large lake. It is within driving distance of the Big City, which is ALSO set near a large lake … which is, in turn, within driving distance of “the capitol,” which is where the university is where Winter teaches English Lit. At one point, Winter goes to Chicago, so Chicago must be sort of nearby but can’t be the Big City. Throughout the book, the skies are dull and grey, the temps are low, and there is plenty of snow, so we’re probably not in the South.
So, after getting about a quarter of the way through the book, I decided that it is set in Michigan. I think the Big City is Detroit. I pictured Sweet Haven set some way up the coast from Detroit, on the shores of Lake Huron. That would make the capitol Lansing. So naturally I assumed that Winter is a professor at MSU, and the MSU campus is where I pictured him going, including having the awesome fight scene in his tiny on-campus office. Setting this book in Michigan, and especially at MSU, will make it even more of a personal gift for its intended recipient.