Winter at the Door

cover57497-mediumAuthor: Sarah Graves

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell

Rating: 4 stars

Buy Links: Author’s page 

Type: First Novel in Series

Received from Publisher


Blurb: Perfect for fans of Jenny Milchman, Linda Castillo, and Lisa Gardner—the first book in a suspenseful new crime thriller series featuring the tough but haunted police chief Lizzie Snow, a big-city cop with a mission, taking on a small town with a dark side.

Moving from Boston to remote Bearkill, Maine, isn’t homicide cop Lizzie Snow’s idea of a step up. But breaking away from tragedy and personal betrayal is at least a step in the right direction. Her dead sister’s fate still torments her, as does her long-missing niece’s disappearance. Lizzie hopes to find the mysteriously vanished child here, amid the coming ice and snow. But in the Great North Woods, something darker and more dangerous than punishing winter is also bound for Bearkill.

The town is a world apart in more than distance—full of people who see everything, say little, and know more than they’ll share with an outsider. The only exceptions are the handsome state cop who once badly broke Lizzie’s heart and desperately wants another chance—and Lizzie’s new boss, sheriff Cody Chevrier, who’s counting on her years of homicide experience to help him solve his most troubling case, before it’s too late.

A rash of freak accidents and suicides has left a string of dead men—all former local cops. Now the same cruel eyes that watched them die are on Lizzie—and so is the pressure to find out what sort of monster has his hooks in this town, what his ruthless game is, and just how brutally he’ll play to win. Whatever the truth is, its twisted roots lie in the desolate backwoods of Allagash County: where the desperate disappear, the corrupt find shelter, and the innocent lose everything. It’s there that a cunning and utterly cold-blooded killer plans the fate of the helpless lives at his mercy—one of whom may be the lost child Lizzie will do anything to save. As a blizzard bears down, and Bearkill’s dark secrets claw their way to the surface, Lizzie gears up for a showdown that could leave the deep, driven snow stained blood red.


Review: Bearkill, Maine is the end of the road in many ways. It looks like a suicide career move for Boston Homicide Detective Lizzie Snow, whose trajectory has been straight up until now. It’s also at the butt-end of nowhere, with practically no population and very few jobs besides working at the Food King  or catching potatoes during potato season. Her office is a joke, her job description nebulous, and her helper, Spud the tatted freak, appears frighteningly naive yet a little crazy. And the only local bar is called Area 51. It fits.

And then there is the crazy-ass mission she’s on. She’s chasing after her kidnapped four-year old niece Nicki, who’s been spotted in this part of Maine. Nicki was taken when Lizzie’s sister Cecily was murdered several years earlier. Lizzie’s thinking that as a local deputy in the area, she can use her job to suss out clues about Nicki’s location. However, when she arrives in Bearkill, there’s a surprise waiting. Sheriff Cody Chevrier also has a hidden agenda, and her job isn’t what she thought. She’s not acting as a regular deputy; she’s the community liaison. She’s supposed tomake friends with the local people” and make them trust her. All to aid what she’s actually doing–helping Cody find clues for his secret investigation into why area ex-law enforcement officers are being killed. That’s not going to get her out where she needs to go to get information about Nicki, and it pisses her off.

Lizzie is also in Bearkill to get away from a bad relationship. She’d been involved with Dylan Hudson, a fellow law enforcement officer in Boston, only to be confronted by his wife. In flagrante delicto. Yep, an ugly ending. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. More drama unfolded, and tragedy struck. It’s been a year, and Dylan–now a free man–is also in Bearkill, following up on leads in a case of his own. And he’s after Lizzie to repair their relationship. But how do you revive a relationship when one of the partners feels utterly betrayed? Lizzie still has feeling for Dylan, and he’s the one that continues to help give her information about her niece Nicki. But how can you forgive someone for a betrayal of that magnitude, even if they are sincerely sorry?

As events unfold and Lizzie starts to not only try to do her job but to follow up on the leads for both of her secret investigations–Nicki and the dead law enforcement officers–things in town start to take an interesting turn. After an unfortunate meeting with a drunk half-wit at the local watering hole nearly turns deadly, Lizzie befriends part-time bartender Missy Brantwell and meets her family. Missy has a small son Jeffrey, and lives with her parents. Things appear very prosperous, but Missy’s dad, Roger Brantwell seems like a jerk while her mother Margaret seems kind of ditzy. Spud seems amazingly savvy about electronics despite his very weird appearance; but there’s more under those tats than the author’s letting on. And why did someone through a brick through her window? Surely that wasn’t the welcoming committee?

Are the people in this town really weird, or is it Lizzie’s big town expectations causing her to misjudge them?  Who is driving the grey Econoline van around? And why did she inherit Rascal the dog and even worse…start liking him?

I really enjoyed this book and the author is obviously experienced in writing mystery and detective fiction. The different threads were expertly woven and I was able to keep them pretty well-organized in my head, which I really appreciated! The action was crisp and detailed and the scene was accentuated by the descriptions of the environment–the bleak winter in Maine and the lonely, abandoned town.

My issues, as such, with this book are that I felt the main “story” or the best angle of the book was somewhat overshadowed by the hunt for Nicki and the search for the supposed cop-killer. The richness of choices from which the author had to choose may have contributed to the lack of emphasis on any–to the detriment of them all. I would have enjoyed seeing greater depth placed on Lieutenant Dylan Hudson’s story line and his investigation. It could have been made the main focus of the book–a chilling, anti-hero story about someone who appears invisible to society yet is leaving an ugly, indelible mark on a few lives–permanently.

Thanks for the read!

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