Cold Country by Russell Rowland may start slow but don’t let that fool you. It will suddenly accelerate and the puzzle pieces will hit you like a sledgehammer.
We are in the year 1968 in a very small town called Paradise Valley, Montana. It reminded me of Walnut Grove from the Little House on the Prairie. That’s how detailed Rowland describes the life of the people who live there. Their struggles, their homes, their children, their school teachers, herding, and even branding cattle is discussed in detail.
You can see people’s daily lives, their facial expressions, and you sense their frustration. Is this it or is there more to life? Is being a rancher our end stage or is there an alternative? And, if I seek out an alternative do I get ostracized or will I still be accepted?
Rowland describes how the death of one of them creates turmoil for all of them. Rancher Tom Butcher is found beaten to death inside his own home. The murder weapon? A baseball bat. Sheriff Daryl Blinder and Deputy Sheriff Trass show up at the house of Julie and Carl Logan. Their son Roger got into a fight at school the other day and swung a baseball bat at a classmate. But that’s not the worst. The Logans are new in town. Strangers. Outsiders.
The victim, Tom Butcher, was one of their own. He was wealthy, employed locals, was generous so who would want to kill him? Maybe outsiders. But the more Rowland looks at all people who live in Paradise Valley, the more obvious it becomes that Tom’s murderer might just be one of them. Is it the ranch help, the local school teacher, the jealous husband, or a disgruntled former employee?
We deal with stolen jewelry, tension between ranchers and their employees, condescending behaviour of some, unspoken dreams of many, and a child’s loyalty in an adult who didn’t deserve it. Stubbornness is the red thread throughout the story. Stubbornly holding on to a life that doesn’t work anymore, stubbornly keeping your distance and hence settling for isolation instead of reaching out to others, and the stubborn believe that once someone really gets to know you, they will leave.
As it goes in small localities, you cannot be the first one to express your doubts or suspicions as everyone relies on everyone. You cannot be the first one to voice concern unless you want everyone else to be concerned about you. But there’s only so much tension a small town can take and it explodes a year later, at the crime scene, inside Tom’s house, where a New Year’s party is in full swing.
This book comes out in November 2019 and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to be an advanced reader. This book is one you must read if you like small town settings, relationships that go deeper than suspected, and characteristics you didn’t see coming. This book starts slowly, yes. However, from chapter nineteen on you better be ready to soak it all up. Rowland wrote a wonderful story about a small town with big issues and even bigger relationship problems.
Note: I was given an advanced reader copy (ARC) by Catherine Sinow, Publicity Assistant for Dzanc Books in exchange for an honest review. Cold Country by Russell Rowland will be on sale in the USA on November 12, 2019. As it isn’t out at the time of writing I didn’t add too many details. You need to make this discovery trip yourself. My other book reviews are here.