Thursday, December 10, 2015

Katherine Hall Page. The Body in the Snowdrift (2005)

     Katherine Hall Page. The Body in the Snowdrift (2005) The part-owner of a ski resort in Vermont dies. Faith Fairchild accompanies Tom her Episcopal priest husband there to a birthday party organised by and for her father-in-law Dick Fairchild. The ski resort is owned by family friends, the Staffords. Faith finds the body when she rises early for a solitary ski. Both families are dysfunctional, but Dick Fairchild is oblivious. The resort is on the edge of financial collapse, it needs a successful season. A of odd incidents occur, culminating in murder. Faith subs for the chef who has mysteriously disappeared, and whose body later is spread over the slopes by the snow-making machine. Faith somehow “solves” the murder, the murderer corners her, but her nephew and the daughter of one of the resort owners save her. The murderer and his evil genius (the aging-hippie Stafford sister) are unmasked. So that’s all right.
     The book is both over- and under-written. The plot is too slight to carry the tale. Hall Page really doesn’t have much interest in how a sleuth works, she’s far more interested in naming brands and dropping literary and culinary hints that the alert reader can use to suss the cultural markers necessary to pass as one of the beautiful people.
     The dysfunctional family is far more interesting than the crimes, but Hall Page’s narration suffers from pop-psych analyses and resolutions, not to mention dialogue in which everybody talks the same way. Characters are like those 2D figures whose arms and legs move, even lead-character Faith is a stereotype. The ambience is barely there; the setting is described in generic terms, so that there’s little sense of place. Much of it reads like a sponsored travelogue.  In fact, the whole book reeked of product placement.
     So why is this a best selling series? Basically, it’s a romance, a genre that has developed multiple sub-genres, all of which require serious suspension of disbelief. Here, there’s the gimmick that Faith is a master chef who owns a catering business, thus is an Independent Woman, despite having a husband and two young children. Some of her recipes are included in every book: to my very amateur eye, they seem simple enough for anyone to make, and rely on well-tried combinations of flavours. Besides being a great cook, loving wife, and good mother, she’s also a sleuth; but we don’t see any sleuthing beyond Faith’s puzzlements and speculations.
     Then there’s the heavy use of brand names. Plus a  story and language that require no concentration whatever. Cliches and familiar tropes lead the reader along the well-worn paths of semi-plausible realist fantasy. You can read this while daydreaming about schussing down a black diamond run then canoodling in front of a fire.
     The only tension is of the what-will-happen-next variety, which is enough to keep a semi-attentive reader turning the pages. I confess that sometimes I am such a reader, but even so, it took me several sessions to read this book, prompted more by a sense that I ought to finish the book before writing about it. Moderately good of its kind. More literate than most examples I’ve come across, hence a *½.

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