Thursday, February 13, 2014

Deep Winter (Samuel W. Gailey)

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

I don't know what exactly compelled me to request an advance copy of Deep Winter from NetGalley. I guess the blurb is what did it: it makes the book sound like this fascinating murder mystery that is high on intrigue and soapy drama (which I iterate repeatedly is my guilty pleasure). As it turns out, that's not the case, not even slightly.

So what is the novel? Well, it's a portrait of a small town, Wyalusing, the sort that I'd describe as a black hole in that there seems to be no escaping from it. It's populated by all sorts of people who never managed to leave and who are very unhappy with their lives at age 40. There's Danny, who fell through a frozen lake and suffered extreme brain damage that has arrested his mental development; Mindy, the only person who has ever shown Danny kindness; Sokowski, the police deputy with a drug-and-alcohol problem and an interest in hurting Danny and using Mindy; and Carl, Sokowski's sidekick, along with a variety of other, more marginal characters.

The book opens with Mindy dead in her trailer, brutally injured. Danny is there and he is panicking about what has happened. This is supposed to be the mystery of the book, and the blurb definitely makes it sound like we're supposed to be unsure of Danny's guilt in the murder. The only problem, then, is that the book rewinds to before Mindy's murder.

We see who does kill her, and I'm not sure if it's really a spoiler, but I won't identify the character. It's fairly obvious that that's what's going to happen, and then we witness it ourselves. Any element of "did Danny do it?" disappears because we know for certain that he doesn't. Deep Winter then tries to clean up the bloody mess in the trailer by means of false accusations, a poorly-handled investigation, and a blizzard.

I'm sure it's clear I'm not a fan of the book. It could have been exciting if maybe we find out much later in the book that Danny has accidentally or intentionally killed the only nice person in Wyalusing, but the moment we find out that he is innocent, the rest of the story falls apart. We get to read several scenes in which the murderer blames Danny over and over, which doesn't add tension or excitement because we know who it was.

Even worse than that are the characters. Seriously. Imagine every single movie or book or TV series about a small town with miserable characters. Pick the three most-repeated tropes about them, hastily glue them together and you've got the population of Wyalusing. Danny's the sweet, innocent mentally-arrested guy that people mock. Mindy's the battered woman who just wants life to work for her but she keeps making bad choices but we're rooting for her because she's nice to Danny. Sokowski is the bully from high school who grew up to be a cruel drunk, and Carl's his accomplice in all his nasty activities but actually feels remorse for everything he's done.

I have said time and again that disliking a book because you can't relate to the characters or you don't like them is not a valid reason. But there's a difference between books with characters you're supposed to hate and books with characters that are just kind of frustrating. And that's exactly what these characters are. They're so familiar and archetypal. It's boring. I was hoping for any sort of breaking of the mold, some real show-stopping moment of "wait I can escape these tropes I inhabit", but it never happened. I would have dealt with how stereotypical the characters were if only they had done something interesting!

The second half of the novel is just bloodshed as people kill other people who accidentally kill people who commit suicide, and maybe that would have been good if there had been even an ounce of tension. Fill a book with interesting characters that all die? I will be provoked. Kill off a slew of boring ones? I will shrug and turn the pages even faster. I had no incentive to care.

Wow. I'm really trashing Deep Winter. It's not a bad book. It's a boring book. Bad books are different entirely, books that slap you in the face with their bad endings or are pages and pages of nonsense. And Gailey's book is not those things. But it's nothing different and it's nothing interesting. And that can almost be as much of a crime.

My rating: 2/5
Deep Winter on Goodreads
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