Gregg Olsen has made a name for himself as both an expert in the study of violent criminal behavior and as an author who gets into the psyche of an evildoer’s motivation. A COLD DARK PLACE, his latest work, is thriller fiction but reads with an immediacy and vividness that makes it seem as if it was ripped off of a police report.
The story begins with a violent storm that at first hides an evil, unspeakable deed: the murder of three members of a model family. When Mark and Peg Martin and their son Donovan are found executed amidst the ruins of their home outside Cherrystone, Washington, suspicion turns almost immediately to the couple’s teenage son, Nick, a loner who has gone missing. Police detective Emily Kenyon is assigned to the case; the more she investigates, the more convinced she becomes that Nicholas, at the very least, knows what occurred on that fateful night. Emily’s stake in the case becomes personal when Jenna, her teenage daughter, disappears in Nick’s company. Her pursuit of Nick leads her back to Seattle, Washington, where a host of bad memories await.
Emily’s ex-husband and his (very pregnant) fiancée live in the area, and her history with the police department there ended with a tragedy that haunts her to this day. This is also the location, however, of a long-closed orphanage called Angel’s Nest, which has a tie to Nick and perhaps an answer to what occurred in the middle of a tornado on the night that his family was extinguished. A deranged killer named Dylan Walker, convicted of multiple murders some two decades previously, holds at least one key to the mystery, and possibly to some others as well.
Jenna, meanwhile, is convinced of Nick’s innocence and is willing to do anything she can to help him get the answers he needs regarding his past, in order to preserve his future. As Emily races to find her daughter and Nick, the answers they all seek will be found and a dramatic climax played out.
Olsen has a winning character with Emily Kenyon, a smart detective who is good at her job and with her child but is still paying for choices made in her personal life. She makes enough mistakes to stay credible and believable, and, if the excerpt from HEART OF ICE, contained in the back of A COLD DARK PLACE, is any indication, we will be seeing more of her. As with any good thriller, however, the villain of the piece defines the work, and Olsen has drawn a good one here. He also includes a variation on artificial insemination that has to be drawn from a real-world occurrence --- either that, or the man is too clever for words --- that will have readers talking for months.
If you want to be in on a new series that is a winner right out of the gate, jump on now.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 24, 2011