A mysterious stranger stalks a blizzard-bound motel: a tightly wound if familiar exercise in claustrophobic terror by veteran horror novelist Grant (Stunts, 1990, etc.). ``Past sunset in early February, the worst time of the year....Too cold. Too quiet...No snow. No wind. The landscape gray and dead'': Grant employs unusually spare prose here to evoke a desolate winterscape and the nine characters trapped within it, going a long way toward making you forget that a bunch of people stuck in an isolated lodge with a maniac on the prowl is the biggest clichÇ in horror fiction. The characters are sharply drawn, from protagonist/motel-owner Neil Maclaren, a retired cop, to the usual motley crew of potential victims: an eccentric cook and a tough-minded waitress; two young lovers; a slick N.Y.C. radio personality; his bitter wife and her friend, a call girl; an obnoxious drunk. A raven settling on a nearby fence portends evil, which itself arrives in the ravenlike figure of a tall, black-clad man--who appears outside the motel, shotguns the drunk dead, then vanishes into the woods. Maclaren and his charges try to seek help, only to find the phone lines cut and their cars disabled. The man reappears and vanishes again, leaving no tracks in the snow. Is he human? What does he want? Even as the ``black ghost'' stands vigil over the motel, these questions and the terror of impending death catalyze the snowbound band into a frenzy of accusation, revelation, and, finally, murder--until only two are left: Maclaren and one other. A climactic confrontation between Maclaren and the man in black explains the stalker's purpose--but only by plunging this crisp psychothriller into murky occult waters. As cool and clean as a snowflake--though this novel, too, melts at the end.