It was such a pleasure to see that a new Louis Kincaid novel had hit my doorstep. HEART OF ICE by P. J. Parrish (the collective name under which sisters Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols present their literary wares) heralds Kincaid’s return and a number of changes in his life, both personally and professionally.
HEART OF ICE may well be the best addition in the series to date; certainly it will be included in many year-end lists. One thing, though, before we begin: if you should ever have the opportunity to see Montee and/or Nichols explain how they do what they do in the course of bringing each installment of the Kincaid saga to fruition, you should do so by all means. It involves poster board and post-it notes, and I am sure an amazing amount of inspiration and perspiration, all of which results in a continuing story of a good but troubled man for whom things go right and wrong in more or less equal measure.
"It’s a deep but not overly complex plot that runs through the book, one that races where it should and slows down right where it must. A nice pair of resolutions (and a long-awaited revelation at the end) makes the book a winner from its enigmatic beginning to its satisfying conclusion."
The title of this book is appropriate for several reasons, not the least of which is its setting, as the story takes place almost entirely on Mackinac Island. Those who are unfamiliar with the Midwest in general and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in particular may want to take a moment to understand the stark contrast between the warm, peaceful resort area that the island is during the summer months, when bicycles are the primary mode of transportation (automobiles are prohibited), and the stark and frozen state of the land that holds forth during the winter, when the island is all but deserted. HEART OF ICE begins just as the transition from tourist season to winter is about to take place in the fall of 1990. It is a change of season for Kincaid as well. A Florida private investigator who has desperately wanted to return to official law enforcement, Kincaid is about to do just that with a South Florida department. He feels, however, that he first must put two things right: getting to know his 10-year-old daughter Lily, of whose existence he was unaware until recently, and a reunion with his girlfriend, Michigan sheriff Joe Frye.
Kincaid and Frye have been…in between themselves, so to speak. Both Lily and Frye are living in Michigan, and Kincaid sees the trip as an opportunity to begin a relationship with Lily, as well as to see where he is with Frye. As it happens, one reason for visiting dovetails into the other. Kincaid and Lily are visiting Mackinac Island when Lily inadvertently makes a grisly discovery, consisting of some human bones left in a deserted lodge. Her “find” reopens an old case involving the disappearance of a young woman named Julie Chapman, who went missing while vacationing with her rich and influential family on the island some two decades previously. Kincaid assists the local police chief, who is in way over his head. The county sheriff, a somewhat taciturn wounded warrior, is drawn in as well. It develops that he and Frye have a professional past that is somewhat prickly, so that when Frye comes in to further assist Kincaid, things quickly get uneasy.
It doesn't take long for a suspect to be identified, but things aren’t quite so simple. In fact, just when you think that you have HEART OF ICE all figured out, Parrish makes a left turn or two, and you realize that you not only don’t know all the answers but also aren't even aware of all the right questions. It’s a deep but not overly complex plot that runs through the book, one that races where it should and slows down where it must. A nice pair of resolutions (and a long-awaited revelation at the end) makes the book a winner from its enigmatic beginning to its satisfying conclusion.
I will confess that I generally prefer South Florida as a setting for Kincaid’s stories, for reasons that are not important here. Accordingly, please believe me when I tell you that the frigid backdrop of Michigan in HEART OF ICE did not diminish my enjoyment of the tale one bit. In fact, I was half-tempted to make the four-hour car drive from my home to retrace Kincaid’s steps in the story. Cooler heads prevailed, but just barely. You may not experience the same temptation, but I would wager that you will enjoy and treasure the tale nonetheless.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 1, 2013