Olshan’s state-of-the-art murder thriller says much about the darker side of the human condition and the moral dilemmas surrounding forbidden, unconventional love. Catherine Winslow prides herself
in being a modern woman and cultivating her own very special and specific identity. But with her daughter, Breck, living in New Jersey, only her babies--a house pig and her dogs--help her navigate though the lonely days and nights in the bucolic Vermont wilderness.
Working as a journalist writing household hints and home remedies for a local newspaper, a pursuit which she finds quietly satisfying, Catherine’s peaceful life is upended the afternoon she discovers Angela Parker’s body against a tree in an apple orchard just up the road from her house, stabbed and then buried in the snow after a severe blizzard. The discovery of Angela’s body is reported all over the
Northeast, sending a bitter chill though the towns of New England. Those who are used to leaving doors unlocked all the time are now locking them.
Anthony, Catherine’s neighbor, takes the lead in the investigation as we learn
of a series of recent deaths by strangulation. Almost as bizarre is the fact that Catherine was murdered on a Saturday, the holy day
of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, an issue that will come to play a pivotal role in Olshan’s unfolding tale, where the snow melts down to the stubble grasses and the landscape is always so monochrome and mud-seasonal brown.
Catherine is probably deluding herself about her life as she cleaves to the placid, lovely Vermont landscapes, knowing all too well the seething resentments between the landed gentry and the tradespeople forced to rely upon them. As the body count increases, so does Catherine’s fear that a clever serial killer might be living right beside her and drawing her deeper into a trap of her own making.
Everything seems so snow-bound in Cloudland, a situation compounded by the ache of Catherine’s loneliness that rears up like an ugly monster. The clenching anxiety of desire feeds on physical contact, a desire made all the more palpable when suspicion turns to Matthew Blake, Catherine’s
former lover who was only twenty-four when he arrived in Catherine’s life “with a bit of a swagger and an arrogant grace.” Now that Matthew is back from Thailand, Catherine can’t help recalling once again his sexual provocation and his troubled manner. But could Matthew really be a cold and ruthless killer of innocent women?
Olshan shepherds us through the unbridled idealism of youth to an unbroken love that burns into a terrible and tortured darkness. Enigmatic cop Marco Prozzo is positive that the perpetrator is somebody local who knows the back roads and isolated areas. Despite a question lingering over Catherine’s wave of protectiveness toward Matthew--and her conviction that he has committed no crime--she tries to sift through all the contradictions and recently revealed truths.
The theft of her prized Wilkie Collins novel The Widower’s Branch acts as a panicky trigger inside Catherine, plunging us even further into her past life with Matthew.
While a dramatic turf war between the Vermont and New Hampshire police departments muddies the waters of the investigation, Catherine works to keep her emotions in check as she attempts to piece together her relationship with Breck. A quick read, Olshan's story is predictably bloody and dark, the isolated template of New England atmospheric fodder
for a coordinated and surprising climax of good against evil.