A Wicked Snow By Gregg Olsen
I think I started this during a bubble bath and then finished it the next morning over coffee. I have a little sun room that's perfect to have a Sunday morning coffee if you're a heathen. The picture is a bit blury below, I got enlarged in the whole process of putting it on the blog. I mean, to be honest, it's a snapshot from my insta page...because the coffee moves. That's a fun little app find there.
Anyways. I was a bit hesitant to start this book because it's always a 50/50 shot with male authors isn't it? (More like 80/20 innit). I have to say, Olsen did not let me down. There is violence (I mean, a serial killer killed multiple people here) but it's not detailed and graphic. There actually isn't a whole lot of violence against women and the main character isn't as flat as most female-centric books written by male authors. It sounds like faint praise but I mean this as high praise. Gregg Olsen did well!
Don't come for me with #NotAllMen. I get it. It's enough men writing women poorly that I don't feel bad for saying it. Also, it's enough men that the last time I talked to the bookseller at my local indie she mentioned that one of the books I picked up (and then re-shelved) had poorly done female characters. She did recommend a better (male) author who had actually worked hard to not have flat lady characters, so I ended up purchasing that one. It's a thing.
Title: A Wicked Snow
Author: Gregg Olsen
Page Number: 400 (paperback)
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Publisher: Pinnacle, a part of Kensington Publishing Corporation.
Hannah Griffin was a girl when tragedy struck. She still remembers the flames reflected against the newly fallen snow and the bodies the police dug up--one of them her mother's. The killer was never found. . ..
Twenty years later talented CSI agent Hannah is investigating a case of child abuse when the past comes hurtling back. A killer with unfinished business is on the hunt. And an anonymous message turns Hannah's blood cold:
Your Mom called. . .
Some website said this is the third book in the Emily Kenyon series but that name isn't ringing any bells. I don't recall an Emily at all. Olsen does have an Emily Kenyon series, but this isn't it. This is a standalone book.
This book is structured into sub-sections (titled Book One, Book Two, etc.) which separates all the acts. Book One ("Reunion") deals with the introduction to all the characters, the background, the crime and so forth. The main character is Hannah Griffin, an investigator for the Crime Scene Investigators unit in Santa Louisa, California. I don't know if Santa Lousa is a real place (google doesn't seem to think it is) but it's location near the San Gabriel Mountains (a real place) is more accessible to my mind. Sometimes I like to see geography. Hannah's job seems to be more than a forensic analyst (she talks to people involved in possible crimes) which is not something I'm aware of. Not an expert though. As the book progresses, Hannah is working on a possible child abuse case. The case itself is really sad (and gets even worse as the book progresses, so a warning there).
Hannah arrives to work one day in August and receives a package addressed to 'Hannah Logan Griffin.' This causes her extreme anxiety by page ten and the reader is informed that 'no one called her Logan, no one knew.' It takes awhile for her to open the package and see what's inside and for her to contact people from her past. This is where we find out that Hannah is the only survivor of a family massacre on a Christmas Tree Farm that occurred twenty years ago in Oregon. Two of the people from her past that Hannah contacts are the judge that presided over the trial and the FBI agent (Jeff Bauer) that took charge of the crime investigation. We also meet Hannah's husband (Ethan, a police officer) and her only daughter (Amber). By the end of book one, the question of who sent the package and another message ("Your mom called") to Hannah is unanswered but Hannah and Jeff are on the hunt for clues.
Book Two ("Ashes") begins with the actual crime from Hannah's past. It details how she survived and the people who died. I feel the need to warn that her two youngest brothers died in the fire at their house, but their aren't any gory details. Olsen just notes that they were young victims that had been found. This is the chapter where we also find out that perhaps more than just the Logan family have been found. This chapter is mostly set twenty years ago when the crimes happened. I think it really adds to the suspense but I don't think there's a way to really discuss it without ruining too many details. I think it's okay to say (as it's hinted at in the blurb and in Book One with the receiving of the message) that there's someone who is communicating with Hannah in order to start a re-investigation of the past. It's also a mystery whether her mother really survived (although they supposedly found her body). In the second book we find out more about the relationship Hannah's mother had with her children, her workers, and her lovers. It paints a picture of a complicated woman who might very well be alive. The reason I think it's okay to mention that her mother might be alive is because in the third book, and final section, Hannah and Jeff deal with that question.
Book Three ("Mother") deals with Hannah and Jeff going up to Anchorage, Alaska to chase a lead (Specifically to Kodiak Island). There's possibly a woman that knows what happened to Hannah's mother and they want to find her. I've got to say, Olsen picked some stunningly beautiful locations for this book. The problem Jeff Bauer notes is that no one actually knows what Hannah's mother looks like. So it would be hard to describe her to potential witnesses. They have a grainy picture from her high school yearbook and age progression pictures but if she survived, she might have had plastic surgery. Jeff and Hannah do eventually find the woman they want to talk to in Book Three, which kicks off the final climax of the entire story as this woman is not what she appears to be.
Things to note...
Hannah is a tiny bit flat as a character. It might be severe childhood trauma or PTSD that has been left untreated. But she's not boobily going down stairs so it's a win. If you're looking for good female characters though, Hannah's not the best in the book. Her mysterious mother is fascinating and the judge is more fleshed out. Hannah is a good conduit in which to read the story though. Her inner turmoil, which she keeps tamped down inside, lets the reader realize how totally messed up the whole situation is. Hannah somewhat deals with some of her feelings about the crime and her childhood by the end of the book, it's somewhat neatly wrapped up. Realistically, I doubt anyone can just be fine after that but this is fiction.
I'm not sure Olsen ever presents a year in which this book is set (just seasons). It was originally released in 2007, re-released in 2014 (and I think has been digitized for e-book release). For some reason, I preferred it more set in the 1990s. I don't know why...but it made more sense to me. Although I'm not sure if that even makes sense forensically.
It's a mystery of course, but it's more of a suspense. I don't think the side mysteries are easy to solve (not that I try to do that) but the main mystery is fairly obvious. I don't think Olsen is trying to present it as anything but. His coup for the book is the ending. If Hannah's mother survived, she is not only a family annihilator but also a serial killer. This would be an interesting concept as most family annihilators are men and after a really fast google search I couldn't find any that fit both categories. Of course, this is fiction so it's totally fine here but I was morbidly curious. I think family annihilators in the modern sense (Scott Peterson, Chris Watts, Charles Benoit--although that might also be linked to CTE, ) are more familiar by name because of how the news covered them but the one that popped up the most for me is John List as the forensic file episode on him was really well done. I did find connections between family annihilators that continue as mass murderers. For instance, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother before stationing himself in the tower at the University of Texas at Austen and shooting people. There are female family annihilators, the Hart family murders by Jennifer Hart is one sad example.
I think the ending to the book was divine. It fits the title ("wicked") quite well but I think that if you don't look books that are completely solved with a happy ending...this won't be for you. Normally I don't like to spoil books but I think when the endings are not quite traditional than it's okay in a vague sense. (Unless you're my friend coming over to watch the Tana French In The Woods series on Starz in America...I'm not telling her anything).
That wasn't an advertisement for Starz. I'm just hella pumped.
I gave this book four stars (3.5 rounded up). There were some weak points but I liked the mystery, I liked the possibility of Hannah's mom being a serial killer/family annihilator as it was a different approach to most mysteries I've read, I liked the nontraditional ending and I liked Hannah's husband Ethan (he's very supportive and does the dishes). I appreciated that Olsen dealt with the violence in the book without being gleefully gory. I did not love Hannah as sometimes she was a bit of a flat character but mostly she seemed in need of Xanax and therapy. She was wrapped up in lots of trauma. While I did not love her as a character...I liked her. I also liked Jeff Bauer...who is not Jack Bauer. He's a fairly competent FBI agent, although a bit of a lone wolf.
It's a good book to not invest too much deep reading into. Some of the character descriptions are too on the nose for instance or even trope like. I thought it was a good, not super fast, weekend read. Sometimes you need books like that. I wasn't sucked in but I wasn't sure that was Olsen's intention. I think he set out a book with three interludes to look at how a person can survive (if possible) the possibility of being from the worst mother archetype. In an answer, he finds Hannah, who spends her career fighting against child abuse, married a man determined to uphold the law and is herself a mother (in which she works hard to not be a mirror of the woman who initially raised her). I mentioned it was a weekend read. I read Book One Friday afternoon, I read Book Two in a bubble bath and finished Book Three (and the whole book) Sunday morning. So to me, with time in between sub-books, I thought the plot was fine. I don't know I would have liked it in one sitting as we're shifting time, location, POV and multiple mysteries in a long (400+ page) book. It might come off as very slowly plotted. So I would recommend reading in sections as it lets you savor the story.
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