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by P.J. Parrish

Kensington Publishing Corp., 2001
ISBN: 0-78601-189-0

Reviewed by Pamela White

A lone wolf police investigator, a testosterone-laden police station, piled-up corpses , sympathetically bleak weather and even a doomed love affair. Clear your calendar. DEAD OF WINTER is a sweaty-palmed ride on the back of P.J. Parrish’s flawed hero, Louis Kincaid, and you won’t want to put it down.

We last saw Louis in DARK OF THE MOON, Parrish’s intriguing debut novel, leaving his troubled Mississippi roots behind. A year later - both the first in the series and this new book take place around Christmas time - he has given up his dream of being a big city cop in Detroit and settled for a Mayberry RFD look-alike situation in Loon Lake, Michigan. The idyllic lake setting, gentle snow falling and sudden job opening begin to turn sinister when the superficial perfection of the job begins to crack like the surface of the frozen lake. It’s not long after Louis finds he was hired to replace a recently murdered police officer that a second body is discovered. Louis’s tenacious, and often insubordinate, investigative tactics serve him and the reader well in DEAD OF WINTER. Neither a classics-quoting chief nor an emotionally disturbed partner can dissuade him from solving an alarmingly increasing number of murders, past and present. The story takes place in the early 1980’s, far from cellular phones, palm pilots and internet access. The benefit is a more personal involvement with the crimes. There will be no crime solved by DNA samples; no computerized forensics lab working the pieces of the puzzle. It is only through combined head and leg work that the pieces, including a symbolic playing card on each corpse, start to fit into a shape that only reveals more trouble for Louis.

Louis Kincaid, a complex young man, born of an alcoholic African-American mother and absentee white father, spent much of his life with a white foster family. He struggles, as he says, a foot in each world, for acceptance by co-workers and residents. Will Loon Lake be his permanent home? Is it possible for someone wounded so young ever to find a home?

Once these murders are solved and the police force decimated in one way or another by the crimes, Louis, once again, packs his bags to move, we hope to a warmer climate. Louis survives close calls and a broken heart to solve the Loon Lake murders, but at great personal expense. We leave him adrift in a law enforcement world and his own personal world, neither of which have a label for Louis.

As far as authors of whodunits go, Parrish is generous with both red herrings that misdirect the reader and clues that add up to the solution. All clues, true and false, are placed openly. There is no last minute introduction of a previously unknown distant relative, no sudden personality changes revealed in the last three pages. Yet even with the clues interwoven in a compelling, heart-racing story, be prepared to hold your breath as Louis translates a doodle, decodes a number, investigates a man and his children and unravels each clue’s meaning in the context of this mystery.

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