First in a proposed series to feature grieving Chicago widower Lark Swenson. Swenson moves to frigid Big Oak, Wisconsin, where one of his first tasks as sheriff is to accompany Ann and John Ranson on a tour of their property to look for the body belonging to the booted foot their dogs dragged in. A frozen, badly mashed corpse turns up in a snowbank; and not far off, amid more icy terrain, lies the similarly bludgeoned skeleton of another victim. Calling on the Wisconsin State Police for assistance, Swenson and pretty officer Lacey Smith (on loan) are soon fighting off a blizzard and a sniper who shoots first at Ranson, then at them before they get time to snuggle under quilts together. Meanwhile, the victims are identified as two University of Wisconsin coeds. The suspects include an alcoholic father and son, an earnest young cop, and a batch of Big Oak girls attending UW, where they’ve been having a fine time experimenting with alternate lifestyles and provoking various parents’ chagrin and homophobia. Ann Ranson will be shot at again, concussed, whacked, and dumped into the snow, but Swenson and Lacey (together with the Ranson dogs) will save her. Then (without the dogs) they’ll interrogate a couple of townsfolk one more time until the guilty party breaks down and confesses.
Lots of snow, romantic tension of the Harlequin kind, and swilling of Diet Coke—so much of the last that you’ll wonder whether they took a leaf from Bulgari and got paid for product placement.