The Fear of Winter by S. C. Sterling, a thriller as unsettling as it is satisfying, set against the backdrop of cold, wintry Colorado.
The Fear of Winter Synopsis
On a frigid December night, Megan Floyd vanishes from the mountain town of Fraser, Colorado. The extensive search provides no answers and as attention of her disappearance fades, the case goes cold. Her father, Tom Floyd, is forced to confront his worst fear that his daughter will never be found, and soon his life and marriage begin to disintegrate around him.
A year after the disappearance and with no new leads, Tom hires private investigator Marshall York, a former detective, and his assistant Hannah Jacobs. They soon start to uncover the secrets of Megan’s dangerous second life, all while fighting their own demons. Tom is guilt-ridden over a missing child case from his past, and Hannah is haunted by the unsolved murder of her older sister.
The case begins to consume all three of their lives, and as they dig deeper, they start to unravel the dark truth of what happened to Megan.
No Bueno Publishing (2023)
Categories Thrillers & Suspense, Action & Adventure
S. C. Sterling | Pub Date Jan 18, 2023 | ISBN 9780997017526 | 234 Pages
Tom Floyd, a former deputy sheriff, has been searching without success for his missing daughter, Megan, who disappeared along with her vehicle when she was nineteen. Now weeks before what would be his daughter’s twenty-first birthday, at his wit’s end, Tom hires a private detective named Marshall York to take up the search for Megan. Even though Tom fans the embers of hope that Megan will be found alive, his wife Lisa feels sure their daughter is long since dead. And the couple’s marriage is coming apart at the seams. We too get the feeling Megan is long dead and that Tom and the private detective are searching for a body.
We meet Hannah Jacobs, also a private investigator working for York. To my surprise, Hannah turns out the protagonist of this story, which works because she is an intriguing character. Deeply affected by the murder of her older sister, Casey, years before, Hannah also struggles with the breakup of her family that resulted from the tragedy and is estranged from her mother. Hannah self-harms to cope with her emotional issues, but proves to be a competent detective. The bulk of the story centers on the efforts of Tom, Marshall, and Hannah to find Megan, or at least find out what happened to her.
We predominantly spend time in Hannah’s head as we move deeper into the novel, but the story unfolds from the perspectives of several of the characters. Switching perspectives has its benefits, though I initially found the head jumping a bit of a challenge, as I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to identify with. But around the fifth chapter, things level out and in becomes clear that it is Hannah who is our lead character, which I liked since I found her the most likeable and engaging. Hannah aside, none of the characters feel particularly likeable, maybe because some suffered from a lack of depth that made it hard for me to engage with them. Having assumed from the book summary that Marshall was the protagonist, just as I became invested in him as a character, it’s Hannah who does most of the investigation’s heavy lifting. So, I questioned why Marshall is in the story as he becomes somewhat superfluous early on. It seems Tom might have just hired Hannah directly and we wouldn’t haven’t even missed Marshall if he hadn’t been in the story.
Given the premise of the book is a search for a missing person with private investigators involved, I expected The Fear of Winter to be a mystery tale. But since the whodunit part gets revealed early on, the book takes on much more of the tone of a dark thriller. And by giving us plenty of suspense and twists and turns, Sterling does a good job of holding our interest by keeping us guessing about how the story will turn out once we know the identity of the antagonist and Megan’s fate no longer seems in doubt.
Despite a few problems I had with clarity, depth of characterization, and details Sterling gives us that don’t actually help move the plot forward, I appreciate he offers here a consistently good crime fiction story with an original plot. While things get overly dramatic and the dialogue feels a little clumsy towards the end, I enjoyed the book overall. While satisfying, the ending felt a little abrupt. This is a fast read because of the pacing, and I finished the book fairly quickly. I suspect a lot of crime thriller and suspense readers will find this an entertaining read.
I received an advance copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes.
Book rating: ★★★★