Review: Winter At The Door by Sarah Graves

WinterAtTheDoorAbout Winter At The Door

Perfect for fans of Jenny Milchman, Linda Castillo, and Lisa Gardner—the first book in a suspenseful new crime thriller series featuring the tough but haunted police chief Lizzie Snow, a big-city cop with a mission, taking on a small town with a dark side.

Moving from Boston to remote Bearkill, Maine, isn’t homicide cop Lizzie Snow’s idea of a step up. But breaking away from tragedy and personal betrayal is at least a step in the right direction. Her dead sister’s fate still torments her, as does her long-missing niece’s disappearance. Lizzie hopes to find the mysteriously vanished child here, amid the coming ice and snow. But in the Great North Woods, something darker and more dangerous than punishing winter is also bound for Bearkill.

The town is a world apart in more than distance—full of people who see everything, say little, and know more than they’ll share with an outsider. The only exceptions are the handsome state cop who once badly broke Lizzie’s heart and desperately wants another chance—and Lizzie’s new boss, sheriff Cody Chevrier, who’s counting on her years of homicide experience to help him solve his most troubling case, before it’s too late.

A rash of freak accidents and suicides has left a string of dead men—all former local cops. Now the same cruel eyes that watched them die are on Lizzie—and so is the pressure to find out what sort of monster has his hooks in this town, what his ruthless game is, and just how brutally he’ll play to win. Whatever the truth is, its twisted roots lie in the desolate backwoods of Aroostook County: where the desperate disappear, the corrupt find shelter, and the innocent lose everything. It’s there that a cunning and utterly cold-blooded killer plans the fate of the helpless lives at his mercy—one of whom may be the lost child Lizzie will do anything to save. As a blizzard bears down, and Bearkill’s dark secrets claw their way to the surface, Lizzie gears up for a showdown that could leave the deep, driven snow stained blood red.

About the Author

Sarah Graves lives with her husband in Eastport, Maine. She is working on the second Lizzie Snow novel, THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND. Visit her at or

My Thoughts

[I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

Homicide detective Lizzie Snow is a recent transplant to Bearkill, Maine, a small town where there's more trees than people, and a heck of a lot of drama going around.

Lizzie has taken a job as a deputy with the Bearkill Sheriff's office in an effort to track down her missing niece. Her boss, Chevrier, has hired her to help solve a string of suicides among ex-cops, which he believes to be work of a murderer.

This is the first book I've read from Sarah Graves, and most of my past mystery reads have leaned toward the Connelly/Connolly/Sanford/Lehane end of the spectrum. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Graves' work, and my first reaction was there was a heck of a lot of stuff going on in this book, and I wasn't entirely sure how much of it was relevant. This helped give those little "a-ha!" moments a lot of oomph once I began seeing how all the so-very-disparate elements connected.

But, jeez, waiting for connections to get made? It was actually kind of annoying and made it feel like there was a lot of water being tread in-between, particularly during the novel's first half. And to top it off, there was a pretty heavy focus on Snow's romantic triangle quandaries between her, her ex-lover and fellow cop, Dylan, and a local veterinarian. That, of course, is in addition to Snow being stalked and spied on, breaking up bar-room brawls, and dealing with multiple senior citizens suffering from dementia.

For being a fairly light read, at times Winter At The Door felt awfully bloated. My main hurdle to tackle was the surprisingly light investigative focus on the central mysteries. As noted above, my mystery reads tend to fall heavily toward male authors, where the action and procedural details are very front and center, and whatever romantic entanglements may be present are less prevalent. Winter At The Door struck me as a pretty sharp inverse of this dynamic, with the romance element being more central to Graves's story, and the dual mysteries at the book's core taking on a more secondary role. But, by around the half-way point when she starts tying all these threads together, the focus on resolving all the story elements gives the book a strength that was lacking in the front-end.

There's just an odd dichotomy to the story-telling here that makes the book feel somewhat imbalanced, and it feels like Graves was having trouble reconciling the various entanglements of her story. Finally, for the last third of the book, the author was able to settle into a killer groove that resolves Snow's man-hunt for a killer in the snowy Maine woods for a really well-done finale.

While Winter At The Door is certainly not poorly done, it didn't quite hit all the right notes for me. Graves tells a solid story, and has a strong knack for detail. Her description of Bearkill and life in that small-town are really well done and evocative. Readers will get a terrific sense of community and the ties that bind the small populace of Bearkill together. And the way she ties in the various elements into a cohesive plot helped me feel a bit like I was a step or two ahead of the game, while still providing a few surprises. All that said, it just felt a little too cozy for me, which is a bit odd for a novel featuring murder, stalking, meth dealing, kidnapping, suicides, etc. On the other hand, Snow was a fun heroine to follow and Winter At The Door left me satisfied enough in the end to consider giving Graves a second chance whenever the next Lizzie Snow novel releases.

Buy Winter At The Door At Amazon

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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