Book Review: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

Cover of SnowCover of Snow
Jenny Milchman
Ballantine Books, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-345-53421-7

From the publisher—

Waking up one wintry morning in her old farmhouse nestled in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Nora Hamilton instantly knows that something is wrong. When her fog of sleep clears, she finds her world is suddenly, irretrievably shattered: Her husband, Brendan, has committed suicide.

The first few hours following Nora’s devastating discovery pass for her in a blur of numbness and disbelief. Then, a disturbing awareness slowly settles in: Brendan left no note and gave no indication that he was contemplating taking his own life. Why would a rock-solid police officer with unwavering affection for his wife, job, and quaint hometown suddenly choose to end it all? Having spent a lifetime avoiding hard truths, Nora must now start facing them.

Unraveling her late husband’s final days, Nora searches for an explanation—but finds a bewildering resistance from Brendan’s best friend and partner, his fellow police officers, and his brittle mother. It quickly becomes clear to Nora that she is asking questions no one wants to answer. For beneath the soft cover of snow lies a powerful conspiracy that will stop at nothing to keep its presence unknown . . . and its darkest secrets hidden.

I’ve dithered over writing this review more than any other I’ve ever written and it’s all because I want so much to do it justice without seeming to be overly influenced by the fact that I know the author. I don’t post reviews on Amazon but this is exactly the kind of review their new rules would target even though it is not the least bit fake. So, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. Yes, I know Jenny Milchman. Yes, I’ve shared space with her on various online elists and groups for a few years now and, yes, we finally met when she and her family traveled through Richmond several months ago. Yes, I have long admired Jenny’s work since before she became published.

It seems like eons ago that Jenny asked if I would read the manuscript of Cover of Snow but, at that time, it  seemed to her as though the eons would never end because she had been on the query and submission path for eleven long years.  Here’s what I had to say about it (not a formal review) in May, 2011—

COVER OF SNOW is one of the best books I have ever read, hands down. The suspense is almost unrelenting and her characters practically breathe on the page because Jenny is so good at bringing them to life. Is it literary? I’d say “yes” because my personal definition of literary is high-quality writing in the mechanics of grammar and construction but also in the evocation of the author’s vision. Most of all, I was struck by the weather which is perhaps the most important character in this story. I’m not talking about weather in the sense of a disastrous storm; this weather, snow and bone-chilling cold, is perfectly normal for the geographic setting but, in Jenny’s hands, has become more than an integral element. It is essential and it is alive. I truly felt the sheer intensity of the cold and saw the seemingly endless vistas of unrelenting white while I was reading as though I were there in the story.

The truly good news was that Jenny had finally reached her goal and found the publisher, the editor, that loved her work, just before I blogged about what I thought then was one of the most engaging manuscripts I’d ever had the pleasure of reading.

And, today, having read the book that was finally published yesterday, my opinion hasn’t changed one bit. The first thing that struck me was that not a whole lot changed from the manuscript I read to the final version. Are there some differences? Of course there are; it’s part of an editor’s job to find ways to tighten the prose, to make it just a little bit better, to catch discrepancies or misplaced words and the like. The truth is, though, that I remembered so much of the story and the words even two years later that Jenny’s editor must not have found many things to “fix”. This finished product is a testament that a talented author’s hard work, patience and perseverance can pay off.

Wedeskyull is still one of the most bone-chilling towns in the lower 48 and it’s not just the weather that causes that feeling. Secrets from years gone by, the heartbreak that can be the result of those secrets, the evil that power can bring, the lengths to which people will go to protect the things that must be hidden, the fear that comes from knowing trust has been misplaced—all come together in a story that kept me on tenterhooks from the shocking beginning to the very sad truths that come to light when Nora refuses to blindly accept her husband’s suicide.  What lies behind the deaths that seem to have no connection? Nora finds that her questions lead to more trouble and frightening events come to a surprising conclusion and make Cover of Snow the perfect literary suspense novel for a cold, wintry read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2013.