As CHILL FACTOR opens, Lilly Martin and Dutch Burton are closing down their cabin, marking the end of their turbulent eight-year marriage. He leaves her to finish up as he heads back to his duties as Cleary, North Carolina's chief of police where five cases of missing women are still open, though these women now are presumed to be dead.
Soon the mountain is enveloped in a winter storm and Lilly is not sure she will be able to make it back to town. On her way down the treacherous road, a man suddenly appears from the woods and she cannot avoid hitting him. With difficulty they manage to make it back up to the cabin and begin to assess their situation. Lilly realizes that she knows this man; he is Ben Tierney, a freelance writer who she met --- and flirted with --- the previous summer.
Meanwhile, Chief Burton becomes frantic when he receives a cryptic call from Lilly. His jealousy and suspicions go into overdrive and he plots to rescue her and win her back.
As if having Lilly stranded on an isolated mountaintop in the middle of a blizzard with a suspected serial killer isn't enough, there are several exciting subplots involving some of Cleary's prominent but dysfunctional families.
There is the Hamer family: Wes, a high school coach, tyrannical taskmaster and notorious womanizer; son Scott, who's eager to please his parents yet sneaks out of his room at night; and Dora, co-dependent wife and mother who struggles to keep the household from falling apart while trying to hold herself together.
Then there are the Ritts, Marilee and her brother William. They have lived together since their harsh parents died, causing tongues to wag as they are wont to do in a small town. She is a high school teacher and he runs the local pharmacy and village gathering place. What they both do when no one is watching will eventually give the townsfolk much more to gossip about.
Rounding out the cast of characters are FBI agents Begley and Wise, each colorful in his own right. Yet, when the time comes for action, they emerge as capable and worthy of their positions.
From the opening pages of this thriller, everything points to Ben Tierney as a serial killer. Yet his manner and moral strength do not match up with those of a brutal killer. Brown tosses in enough red herrings to keep the reader fishing for more clues right up to the last few electrifying chapters.
Once you've read enough Brown books you know there will be a great love story as well as great suspense; she never fails to provide both delicious morsels for her myriad fans. CHILL FACTOR is a great read anytime, but especially when the temperatures are soaring into triple digits.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on December 26, 2010