I’m writing this while holed up in a Colorado snowstorm with a cup of hot coffee. Decaf. Don’t hate me, I’ve got prostate issues.
Anyway, watching the snowflakes drift earthward while huge gobs of snow drop from trees like sacks of wet cement when the wind picks up got me to thinking about winter as a plot device. A Google search of the phrase “novels set in winter” brings up scores of books, most of which I haven’t read. I’ll add a few of these to my nightstand but the poor thing can only hold so much weight. And yes, I know that ebooks exist, but I’m just trying to make a point.
A quick aside for Game of Thrones fans. Yes, winter is coming and yes, one of the main characters is named Jon Snow, but I must admit I couldn’t make it past the second book of the series. Too many characters, too many divergent plots, plotlines that move at glacial speed, and too much of that guy saying “Hodor.” I’m happy that you loved all seven million words from George R.R. Martin’s laptop, but my patience ran out.
First up for discussion is Hell is Empty, the seventh book in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. Johnson’s protagonist, Walt Longmire, sheriff of Absaroka County, is perhaps the best modern literary cowboy on the scene today. He’s tough, smart, kind, generous, and, above all, well-read. Hell is Empty finds him chasing the bad guy up a snowbound mountain with the assistance of his spirit guide, Virgil White Buffalo. Reading it will have you shivering from Johnson’s descriptions of the harsh winter conditions Walt must endure. Brrrrrrr!
I can’t recall how I heard about Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman, but I’m glad I did. Set in Norway (Nesbo is Norwegian), the plot involves a serial killer who murders unfaithful wives on the day of the season’s first snowfall. Harry Hole, a detective with demons of his own, must race against time to find the killer before he strikes again. The book is the seventh of 13 in the Harry Hole series. If you like crime fiction, this one is for you.
No discussion of snow-themed novels is complete without mentioning Stephen King’s masterpiece, The Shining. Who can forget the sight of a frozen Jack Nicholson at the end of the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation? It has always saddened me that King dislikes the movie, but authors are always loathe to see their work altered for the screen.
Speaking of The Shining, a couple of years ago, I ran into Shelly Duvall, who plays the tortured wife of the film, at a grocery store in Blanco, Texas. I am not making this up. I was behind in her line as she told the checker that she had starred in a movie with Jack Nicholson, The kid, who looked like he was still in high school, rolled his eyes and said nothing. After Shelly left, I told the kid, “You know, the funny thing is, that woman really did star in a movie with Jack Nicholson.” I got an eye roll too.
Rounding out our discussion, I feel compelled to mention two favorite films of mine, both of which feature ice and snow as major characters. The first is Insomnia, a 2002 thriller in which Al Pacino’s detective accidentally kills his partner while investigating a murder in Alaska. The climax pits Pacino against the bad guy, played by none other than Mork. I mean Robin Williams.
I loved Wind River when it came out in 2017. Jeremy Renner plays a game warden who, with the help of FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen investigates the death of a young girl after her body is found on a snowy mountain. I won’t spoil the ending, but Old Man Winter plays a role in the bad guy’s downfall. By the way, here's wishing Jeremy Renner a full and speedy recovery from his recent real-life encounter with a snow plow.
Finally, I can’t omit one of my all-time favorites, even though it’s not in any way a crime thriller. Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman is a children’s book that I spent many hours going through with my own kids back in the day. There are no words, just drawings that allowed my son and daughter to make up their own story as we turned the pages. If you have a young child, this one should be on your bookshelf.
I’ve been writing for two hours now and the snow is still coming down. Time for another hot drink and another dive into my upcoming crime novel, Blunt Force Trauma. Coming soon!
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