This isn’t the book I’d choose to review to begin this blog. It’s simply the most recent book I’ve read (not counting the brilliant The Secret Scripture, which I am reading right now).
I read Alex Barclay’s first book, Darkhouse, and found it disappointing. If I did read The Caller, her second novel, it didn’t leave much of an impression – even checking the summary on Amazon doesn’t help to jog my memory. I didn’t have high hopes for Blood Runs Cold.
Special Agent Ren Bryce is seconded away from the Safe Streets team to the investigation into the death of FBI agent Jean Transom on a mountain peak near the small Colorado town of Breckenridge. After an avalanche sweeps away the body and kills one of the search team, Ren finds her investigation stalling, with no one in Breckenridge willing or able to help her.
There are some things to like about this novel – Barclay is particularly good on office banter between the FBI agents and the cops. The affectionate ribbing between the agents and cops who know each other well is almost as good as P. J. Tracy’s (and that is high praise). Ren herself is an intriguing and likable protagonist – a beautiful, emotionally-walled-off mess who is as competent in the field as she is chaotic in her private life. Who could fail to be intrigued by a heroine who you first glimpse waking up on the bathroom floor, having spent the night throwing up after getting blind drunk?
However, I spent the first part of the book desperately trying to differentiate between the other characters – I could barely remember who was on the Safe Streets team and who was investigating Jean Transom’s death. The male cops and agents who surround Ren are thinly drawn and hard to tell apart. Eventually it became clear, but not until a long way into the story.
Ah, the story. It’s all over the place. Two-thirds of the way through the book, Ren is suddenly seconded to another unit and, having got used to the wintry backdrop, you find yourself in the middle of summer, far from the town and the investigation that you have just managed to get straight in your head. When things finally do start to happen, things are wrapped up in a satisfactory manner, but it is far too late. It’s rather unsatisfying after you’ve slogged through 400 pages of narrative in which not much happens to find everything wrapped up in less than a quarter of that (and only a part of that deals with who killed Jean Transom). I want a story to keep me interested throughout, not meander aimlessly through most of the book, then provide a high-speed resolution in the very final pages.
Barclay clearly has talent, but she hasn’t yet found the right story. If she can get the balance right in the future, she could be one to watch.