Friday, November 24, 2023

Winter Chill

Joanne Fluke, John Fischer, Gina Jackson, Kathryn Kirkwood, and R.J. Fisher are all pseudonyms of Minnesota author Joanne Fischmann Gibson (b. 1943). In the 1980s, she used the name Jo Gibson to write young adult horror books like Dance of Death, My Bloody Valentine, and Slay Bells. My first experience with the author is her novel Winter Chill, originally published by Dell in 1984. The book was reprinted by Kensington in 2013 as a mass-market paperback and now exists in both physical, audio, and digital editions.

The book begins with Dan Larsen playing in the snow with his daughter Laura. The two are buzzing through the Minnesota powder on a snowmobile when Dan runs into a snow-covered plow. The accident leads to Laura's death and Dan's permanent paralysis. This opening chapter also introduces readers to Dan's wife Marian, who becomes the main character.

To help his wife's mourning, Dan comes up with the idea of writing little notes to Marian pretending to be Laura's ghost. Things like, “I'm in a happy place now Mommy”. It is just as weird as it sounds, and I had to suspend my disbelief that Marian, a teacher that had her own daughter as a student, couldn't recognize that this was Dan's handwriting. But, in bypassing the nitpicky stuff, I carried on.

Throughout the narrative, the kids in the tiny Minnesota town are being murdered by a shadowy killer. Two kids die in a garage when the killer turns the car on and closes the door. Little Becky is sawed to death in an icehouse. There's a throat-slashing on a snowy hill. You get the idea. It isn't nearly as compelling as an 80s slasher flick (or knock-off) because the dread and terror is simply stripped from the soggy narrative. The book's main focus is Marian's grieving, which sort of makes sense when the killer is unveiled, but the plot is buried in Dan adjusting to paralysis and Marian reading made-up messages from her dead daughter. I found Sheriff Bates the most interesting character, but he's third-string.

Despite a great cover, and back-cover synopsis, Winter Chill is a Winter Bore. Unlike Dan, proceed with caution.


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