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AN UNWANTED GUEST

Gwen has never been so frightened in her life . . .
Is someone else dead?
She wonders if soon there will be no one left at all.
She wants to live, but she hopes that if she has to die, she isn’t the last one.

Outside Mitchell Inn, high up a remote mountain road in the N.Y. Catskills, the blizzard is intensifying. Snow pelts the windows like bullets and the wind howls angrily. Inside, the fireplace crackles and snaps throwing welcoming heat around the lobby. The weekend is about to begin and the mystery awaits.

The family-owned upscale  hotel normally fills all twelves rooms on a winter weekend. This weekend, the forecast of a snowstorm brought cancellations. Just as well, as non-resident staff are unavailable. James, the owner and the house chef, and his son, Bradley are not worried. There are only six reservations and everything has been prepared in advance.

As the Friday afternoon light begins to fade, the sounds of tires crunching on fallen snow fills the parking lot. The guests are looking forward to a respite from their hectic lives totally disconnected from clamor of city life. Mitchell Inn advertises they are completely off grid. Other than electricity and a single landline, guests will find no internet or cell service.

Our cast of  quirky Agatha Christie-lite characters arrive, stomping off snow in the entrance way and shivering from the arctic cold. Ian and Lauren, a newly dating couple hope for privacy to deepen their relationship. They bring with them Gwen and Riley, old college friends, rescued from their disabled vehicle on the trip up the mountain. Gwen, living with the stain of a bad decision from long ago hopes to help Riley suffering from PTSD after years as a war correspondent in Afghanistan. David, a criminal defense attorney, needs the quiet solitude to recharge his mental batteries. Beverly, a middle-aged housewife, has booked a quiet get-away hoping to recharge her failing marriage. Her husband, Henry, reluctantly has agreed to come with her. Candice is looking for a quiet place to put the finishing touches on her debut fiction novel. The wealthy Matthew and his fiance Dana, take a needed break from planning their high society wedding.

The guests arrive for Friday’s evening meal, each surreptitiously scanning the room, checking each other out as they gathered. The stunningly beautiful Dana, now shed of her winter cloaks, strode elegantly into the room flashing the fist-sized diamond on her left hand. The men sat taller and the women groaned. After dinner and cocktails, everyone headed to their rooms feeling safe and comfortable as the raging storm outside screamed and threw its fists at the windows.

The peace and calm inside ended early Saturday morning with the sound of a hysterical scream.The beautiful Dana was discovered bloody and broken at the bottom of the first floor stairs. Was it a terrible accident or was she murdered? As the crowd gathered around her dead body, each reeling at the discovery, Mitchell Inn went dark from downed power and telephone lines.

With her death, the game is afoot. Upon closer examination it was determined she was murdered! The perfect weekend has ended as they stand in the dark, the temperature in the Inn falling rapidly without a functioning furnace. The atmosphere darkens hour by hour as they realize they have no way to notify the authorities. Some one is a murderer in their group! Accusations fly, more bodies are found, and each person reveals their true self under pressure.

What? Did you expect me to tell you what happens next? Nada gonna happen. This short novel is the perfect anecdote to stave off the anxiety of staying confined in your home during this nation wide crisis. Not exactly a cozy mystery offering on par with Ruth Rendell or Agatha Christie but none-the-less entertaining. Having been born and raised around winter blizzards, I can still hear the wind howling and the bite of snow on my face. Thought the setting heightened the stories tension well.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the advanced reader copy in exchange for my review and opinion.

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Beartown

BEARTOWN

by Fredrik Backman

Atria Books|2017
Hardcover: 432 pages
ISBN: 978-1501160769
Genre: Fiction

ARC ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★★

Where are our better Angels at such times/ As these? sweet Virgin, breathe awhile!——

William D’avenant, The Unfortunate Lovers
(licensed April 1638, printed 1643)

Late of evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there…………

Fredrik Backman, in hockey terms, hit me with a “check to the head”. His previous books feature curmudgeonly old men and quirky women that leave you warm and fuzzy inside. This newest book spins 180° toward the dark side. A small dying town, whose residents are obsessed with ice hockey, pin their hopes of economic revival on the backs of a junior hockey team as they head into a championship game. A town that has lost so much over the years needs a win – no matter the cost.

I ran into a group of friends the other day all excited to tell me that they had just finished Backman’s book, The Man Call Ove and wanted to know if he had any new books. As I looked into their eager faces, I told them about Beartown and I watched their faces deflate. Their reaction, I realized, was my initial reaction when I finished the book…disappointment. But I have had a change of heart.

I expected the author to give me another “bear-hug” book. A warm fuzzy hometown story resembling the 1950’s sitcom with “life is beautiful all of the time” Ozzie and Harriet Nelson nuclear families. Instead, Backman shows us that behind the painted-on-smiles and nothing-to-see here attitudes lies complex characters with flaws and less than lovable qualities. Not everyone ends each day with kiss goodnight and a promise of a bright tomorrow.

Tiny Beartown, isolated physically from the world-at large by dense forests and mountain terrain, resembles a tiny village inside a snow-globe. As long as no one shakes things up, the town turns a blind-eye to anything “unpleasant”; things look peaceful from the outside. When something “unpleasant” does happen, they feel it best to act like it didn’t happen. Don’t make waves. Look away!

You never want to get away from home as much as you do when you’re fifteen…It’s like her mom usually say when…her patience [has worn thin]. You can’t live in this town, Maya, you can only survive it.

As the all important hockey championship match draws near, the atmospheric pressure climbs for the town’s residents. It is now that the author has chosen to rock the town to its roots. Over-involved sports parents with their entitled children, down-on-their-luck townsfolk and greedy power-hungry men have chosen to live life vicariously through the talented young hockey team. The fate of Beartown is placed on the backs of children.

If tensions were high enough, the hockey team’s star player, son of a wealthy and powerful businessman, hosts a raucous party when his parents are out of town. The callous young man targets the daughter of the general manager of the local hockey club and makes a bet with his friends that he can get her to have sex with him. He invites her to the party and she goes, knowing that her parents would not approve, but never suspecting the danger. New to the party scene, the girl becomes drunk and charmed into going upstairs with the boy. Alone… he rapes her.

From that moment the future of everyone in Beartown changes. Some find their better angels and others succumb to their baser natures. New friendships are forged, old friendships are tested and other relationships are severed. Loyalty and love are tested. Marriages flounder, tempers flare, mobs form and unexpected heroes shine. The snow globe has been cracked and the residents of Beartown must look introspectively and make decisions to stay and heal the open wounds or to turn their backs on Beartown.

Recommended as a thought provoking book club selection.

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