"The Deep, Deep Snow" by Brian Freeman; Blackstone Publishing, 354 pages, $16.99.
Things are usually pretty quiet in the small forested town of Avery Weir, a place so hidden away that most folks call it Everywhere, in the middle of nowhere.
Our narrator is Shelby Lake, a young woman who was left on the sheriff's doorstep as an infant. The kindly sheriff adopted her, naming her after his favorite fishing lake, and has raised her with the hopes that she would take over the sheriff's office one day. Now 25 and a deputy, Shelby is trading banter with her co-workers when the sheriff gets a call: A 10-year-old boy is missing.
The only sign Jeremiah Sloan has left behind is his bike on the side of a forest road. As the search intensifies, we meet a townful of characters — some quirky, some lovable, some ominous — and every one of them, including Shelby, is hiding a secret.
Even with the FBI's help, there is no sign of Jeremiah. Suspicion lands on a number of people, but the case goes cold over the coming months. The boy's heartbroken family falls apart. Then, 10 years later, there is a break. Someone has found one of Jeremiah's possessions in a most unlikely place, and the mystery ramps right back up to the incredible pace where it left off.
The ties between these characters are deep, because no one leaves Everywhere for long. They all come back, sharing decades of memories, relationships, grudges and regrets. Every character that St. Paul-based author Brian Freeman introduces has a part in this complicated plot.
The sheriff is fighting advancing Alzheimer's, Shelby keeps seeing omens of snowy owls leading to turns in the case, and a young woman now in Shelby's care is going through a perilous spell with drugs and alcohol.
Even with the heavy subject matter, this book is a delight to read. The dialogue is crisp and natural. The storytelling seems unflawed, with the tiniest of breadcrumbs from one chapter suddenly resurfacing and making their purpose known.
"The Deep, Deep Snow" is one to share with friends, to recommend for book clubs or to stash away for a second reading down the road. It's just that good.