A Cold White Fear, by RJ Harlick***

acoldwhitefearMeg is alone with a 12 year old in her isolated cabin during a Canadian blizzard, when three escaped prisoners land on her doorstep, one of them injured. She helps dress the wound of the injured man, but then is held hostage, along with Jid, who is like a son to her, and her puppy. This mystery is the seventh in a series, but it was the first I had read, and it is easy to follow as a stand-alone thriller. Thank you to Net Galley and Dundurn Publishers for the DRC, and my apologies in being so tardy with my review. The book has been released and is available for purchase now.

Those that enjoyed The Shawshank Redemption or that are fans of Val McDermid’s mystery series will probably enjoy this story a great deal.

Each of us has a threshold of tolerance for how much terror and violence they can stand in a novel before it stops being entertaining and starts to be just scary and violent. That’s what happened to me here. Roughly eighty percent of this book is set in and near Meg’s cabin, with one aborted effort at escape after another; the writer wants us to also be worried about the puppy, and she played the card well, maybe too well for me. The small moments in which interesting tidbits of Algonquin culture are released, or in which one of the escapees does some small, compassionate deed are eclipsed by the sheer weight of the isolation and brutality present, and I finally got to where I could not stand it anymore around the 65 percent mark, and I skipped to the end and traced it back. That said, I also know that my own tolerance is lower than most. I watch very little television and few movies, and so a little goes a long way where I am concerned.

Harlick deserves a lot of credit for being able to spin a linear plot line with a limited setting, time span, and for most of the story with a limited number of characters. She never loses the reader’s interest or wanders off on a tangent; her facility with setting is good, and the tangibility of the place and people add to the terror experienced by the reader on behalf of the protagonist.

Scary-as-hell fiction from a series writer worth following in years to come.

The Burying Ground, by Janet Kellough ****

theburyinggroundThis is the fourth book in Kellough’s Thaddeus Lewis series, but it was brand new to me, and I was able to follow the story quite well as a stand-alone. My thanks go to Net Galley and Dundurn Group for the DRC. This book comes out in early August, and I will run my review a second time on my blog then to remind readers that it’s available.

Kellough has merged two enjoyable genres, mystery or detective fiction and historical fiction, and added a splash of social justice–the sort that slides into the story neatly and without preaching. Lots of different story threads eventually braid together elegantly into an ending that satisfies deeply.

The settings are Montreal close to the time of the Industrial Revolution, and outside of Montreal in a village called Yorke. Our protagonists are Thaddeus Lewis, a Methodist Episcopal preacher who travels the circuit, and his son Luke, a physician who serves as the junior partner to a taciturn elderly doctor named Christie. At times Luke has his hands full; there’s a typhus outbreak, but it seems to be a mystery in itself why some entire households are spared while others are consumed and nearly none left standing. But no worries; that is not our only mystery, nor our chief one.

The primary mystery is that of the grave robbers. The sexton for the local cemetery, The Burying Ground, Morgan Spicer, has interrupted robbers who dig up the interred, but leave the body. Yet there are also some caskets that have two bodies in them. What’s up with that? An invigorating combination of red herrings mixed with interesting historical minutiae spice up the tale as it unfolds.

What’s up with the overly eager woman who resorts to a form of blackmail to lure eligible bachelors into her parlor? Why isn’t the local law protecting local Black folk from marauding American slave catchers looking to put them on the auction block back in the States?

Kellough tosses it up all up and keeps us on our toes. And now that I have enjoyed her work, I will look for opportunities to read the other three novels in her series.

Watch for this title, on sale this summer.