Although I do my best to read across bookshelves, my early life can be divided into genre chunks: the romance years, the thriller phase, at least a decade of self-improvement, months where I lived vicariously through memoirs and biographies and, of course, mysteries. I am the ideal mystery reader. My suspension of disbelief is activated on the first line and I’m fully engaged until the end—gullible, oh, so gullible.

I marvel at the mystery writer’s ability to plant red herrings and build suspense until the reader is so wrapped up in the chaos of clues they can’t trust anyone other than the hero. To write an unsolvable mystery seems an impossible task for me. But each time I’ve read a Sara J. Henry novel I’ve been tempted to accept the challenge. I covet her style.

The leanness of her writing keeps the reader and the protagonist, Troy Chance’s attention on the action. By sticking to the facts Henry gives the reader freedom to discover their own emotional connection to the events and characters within the story. Henry’s faith in her readers deepens our faith in her as a storyteller—a winning combination.

Henry’s debut novel Learning to Swim, which won the Anthony Award and Agatha Award for Best First Novel and the Mary Higgins Clark Award, also features protagonist Troy Chance. Reading Learning to Swim is not essential for your enjoyment of A Cold and Lonely Place thanks to the effortless way Henry drops bits of information about Troy’s earlier escapades.

I wasn’t going to ask about searching Tobin’s e-mail account, possibly because I’d
gotten myself into so much trouble last summer downloading someone else’s e-mail.

But my hunch is by the time you finish this second novel you’ll snatch up the first because there is nothing like a well-spun mystery, and Troy Chance is a fascinating heroine. Her no-nonsense, no frills attitude draws us in while her self-awareness seals our desire to be her best friend. Her evolution becomes our own. Troy inspires us to strengthen the best parts of ourselves through the deft way she navigates dicey situations. A Cold and Lonely Place is filled with them. And because Troy is never hundred percent certain about anyone, neither is the reader. Even when all the characters are getting along, the way Henry weaves the tapestry of the story together there is a constant undercurrent of mistrust and foreboding. Nothing is predictable.

Sara J. Henry is able to keep the mystery threads alive until the very end because the only details she doles out are the ones we need to know. She shows writers how easy it is for a character to carry a story without barfing up every scrap of turmoil in their lives. A Cold and Lonely Place and Learning to Swim resonate with us because the characters, although colored by their past, live actively in the present.

Plunge into the present of A Cold and Lonely Place.