Monday, February 05, 2007

PJ Tracy's Snow Blind

About four years ago, I decided to finally venture into the library section titled Mystery. Based on a friend's recommendation, I picked up a novel called Monkeewrench by PJ Tracy and felt enough delicious creepy thrills that I read every book they put out after that. The tightly plotted Live Bait was a worthy follow up. But unfortunately the next - Dead Run - faded disappointingly after a very promising start.

It was, then, a pleasure to discover that their latest thriller - Snow Blind - marks a return to form for the authors (PJ Tracy are a mother and daughter team.) In Snow Blind, a warm spell in the city of Minneapolis is broken by a storm that dumps a ton of snow, bringing temperatures down and chilling everyone to the bone. In a neighborhood park, two dead bodies are found inside snowmen, complete with carrots for noses. Both bodies belong to men who work for Minneapolis PD.

PJ Tracy are experts at bringing out the flavor of the Midwest. They do this by making the weather and sorroundings a big part of their mysteries. Their characters think, act and banter like people you find around here. Inside jokes are made with an amiable familiarity.

Meanwhile bitter Minnesotans watched their lawns green up in the occasional rain, and their snowmobiles gather dust in the garage. A few die-hard riders made the short trek to Iowa to try out new machines, but they never talked about it at the water cooler on Monday morning. It was simply too humiliating.

The narrative is always driven by describing how the detectives go about resolving the murders. Some of this is captured in conversations where the characters conjecture what might have happened, often laying down multiple scenarios. This lets the reader in on the adventure and is an acknowledgement that our imaginations will be working overtime while reading. Sure, its formulaic, but it works.

A couple of things to note if you would like to take my recommendation and read this book.

First: Snow Blind brings back the same set of characters the authors had created back in Monkeewrench. But this time they create a few new ones that allows them to build backstories and create suspense. It's not necessary to read any of their previous books in the series, but you'll have more fun if you read at least Monkeewrench.

Second: PJ Tracy's novels aren't high art and I say that with a lot of respect and fondness. Motivations in this book left me scratching my head (I'm staying away from spoilers here). You'll get a blow by blow description into what a character might be thinking, but you'll never get any core psychological insight. And there was plenty of fertile psychological material to be mined in this book that goes abegging.

Don't go in expecting steak and potatoes, prepare yourself for popcorn. And PJ, can we please get away from the archaic "hacked into a chat room and figured it out" scenario? How about something around blogging in your next? Blogging can get downright creepy too!

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