Temperatures plummet while emotions reach fever pitch in a melodrama that also runs hot and cold.
“A very hard place to live,” says Sheriff Del Maki, born and bred in Michigan’s bleak Upper Peninsula. Still, he’s resigned, accepting the fact that desolate as the U.P. is—and often as he’s thought of pulling up stakes for somewhere softer—he’s the stuff of a permanent Yooper, the half-mocking term U.P. residents use for themselves. The sheriff’s base is Yellow Dog Township (pop. 800), a few miles below the Canadian border, where not a lot happens, particularly in the winter, although now a young man named Norman Haas manages to stir things up. He begins by breaking jail and arriving, nearly frozen, at a local farmhouse owned by the reclusive Liesl Tiomenen, at 40 a bereaved and still-grieving widow. Norman is 25, self-involved and resentful, but in a curious way loneliness forges something of a bond between the two. Liesl warms him, feeds him, provides him with a change of clothing, swaps sad stories with him—yet feels honor-bound to turn him in. Once again, however, Norman escapes, spurred on by his determination to confront the woman who first wronged him. Despite her betrayal of him to his detested brother, the inescapable truth is that he’s still in love with her. Sheriff Maki—a dedicated and indefatigable lawmen on the model of Inspector Javert—tracks him doggedly. Norman, his worthless brother, his faithless sweetheart, her heartless father, the relentless sheriff, plus some added starters, come together in a remote mountain lodge where old hatreds are released, bullets fly (also two arrows), and few are left standing at the bell.
Smolens (Angel’s Head, 1994, etc.) can write riveting scenes, but far too much of what’s in between them is derivative or predictable.