Review

The Ice Harvest: A Novel

by Scott Phillips

Read an Excerpt.

I have a consumer
product warning for you. The good people at Ballantine Books
apparently had a print batch where they mixed a bit of super glue
in with the typeset. I discovered this when I picked up the book
THE ICE HARVEST by Scott Phillips and couldn't put it down for
three hours. Oh, yeah, one other thing --- after a few hours of
sleep I had to sit down and read it again. Yes, it's that
good.

THE ICE HARVEST is Scott Phillips's first novel; he is reportedly
working on another, and I'm impatient for it already on the
strength of the first one. There are authors --- good authors, mind
you --- who have yet to write a book as good as this one. They'll
be reading THE ICE HARVEST a couple of times too, trying to figure
out just how Phillips slugged it out of the park his first time up
to the plate.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve, 1979, in Wichita, Kansas, a
mid-sized, middle American city that is quiet on the surface but
boils and festers underneath. The reader gets to spend the night
with Charlie Arglist, an attorney who traded a mildly successful
practice for employment with a group of shady characters. Charlie
is killing time, waiting for a 2 A.M. meeting with someone named
Vic. He makes the rounds in Wichita, visiting bars, strip clubs, an
adult bookstore, and a massage parlor --- establishments with which
he has a vague, uneasy connection. As we follow Charlie around, we
learn that he drinks too much, keeps bad company, and is poster boy
for Bad Father of the Year. We also learn that his life over the
previous several years --- probably commencing at the point at
which he left his private practice --- is slowly but inexorably
coming unhinged. And on Christmas Eve, 1979, Charlie, once he has
his meeting with Vic, will have reached the point of no
return.

Phillips strikes an incredible balance in THE ICE HARVEST: the
reader knows what is happening but never knows from one page to the
next what is going on. And it isn't a cheat; Charlie doesn't really
know, either. Not really. The characters in THE ICE HARVEST don't
behave predictably. They behave the way real people do, which is
erratically and inconsistently. It is simply incredible the way
Phillips nails every single person that he brings into his novel,
from Charlie, who is with us from first page to last, to sullen gas
station attendants who disappear after a paragraph or two. As if
all of the foregoing was not enough for one book, Phillips waits
until the last 10 pages of the book to introduce two major
characters. You'll never guess the ending.

THE ICE HARVEST succeeds on so many levels --- as a mystery, as a
suspense novel, and perhaps most significantly, as a subtle
character study --- that I would not be surprised to find it one
day included in an American Literature curriculum. It deserves a
place on everyone's bookshelf, right next to THE LAST GOOD KISS by
James Crumley. Highest possible recommendation.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Ice Harvest: A Novel
by Scott Phillips

  • Publication Date: October 30, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345440196
  • ISBN-13: 9780345440198