WINTER BY DEGREES by John Smolens

WINTER BY DEGREES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Contemporary, downbeat New England Gothic--with a troubled young hero looking into the mysterious drowning-death of the town drunk (black sheep of an uppity old family). Nelson Rideout (divorced) and his younger brother Tuna (an aging rebel) are the ne'er-do-well, disenchanted sons of a successful Newburyport insurance-man, doing odd jobs like salvaging--sometimes in the smelly company of Iver Smyth, a middle-aged boozer and gambler. Then, soon after a run-in with Tuna, Smyth disappears, later turning up drowned in the icy Merrimack River. Accident? Or murder? Nelson, for no very convincing reason, starts playing sleuth: he visits the dead man's imperious half-brother, a creepy lord-of-the-manor sort; he meets Iver's stoic wife and gutsy daughter; and he has a series of confrontations with sleek mobster Richard Pell from Rhode Island, in town to collect long-overdue gambling debts from. . .Iver Smyth, of course. The suspense-plotting here--violent showdowns, unsurprising revelations-seems half-hearted. First-novelist Smolen puts far more energy and conviction into Nelson's unremarkable domestic tensions: jealousy over his ex-wife's boyfriend, edgy attempts at staying close to his son, ambivalence about going into the family business. Still, if this is solidly satisfying neither as a mystery nor as a character-study, it's a modestly absorbing hybrid--with gritty dialogue and earthy atmosphere and promise of stronger novels (probably non-mystery) ahead.

Pub Date: Dec. 12th, 1988
Publisher: Dutton