I don’t like to think about snow in summer, but Mary Howard writes literary thrillers that get me no matter the season. WHITEOUT starts in the middle of a snowstorm, when Maggie Ryder, headed to Illinois for a painting commission, gets stranded in a rural farmhouse with a handsome, intriguing stranger who claims to be the son of the couple who hired Maggie to add artwork to their walls. The Shaws, who aren’t there to receive her, never mentioned a son, and Maggie suspects that Ian O. Shaw isn’t what he seems.
And she’s isolated in an empty house with him, her paints, his violin, and mountains and mountains of snow.
Because this is a Howard novel, there’s much more going on beneath the surface. Maggie is trying to escape a tangled family situation, which includes a husband who spends more time on his book than on her and a stepdaughter who is her former best friend. She paid a high price to enter her marriage and will pay an even higher price now that she wants out. She can’t get a hold of her employers and keeps finding money stashed here and there around the house. And Ian’s story about where he’s been, and what he’s up to, includes the theft of a priceless violin that is going to cause a great deal of trouble for whomever is discovered with it–which just might include Maggie.
One of the great pleasures in reading a Howard novel is the precise, proficient prose. I often found myself reading sentences twice, one to marvel at the sheer sound of them, and next to find out what was going to happen. So many mysteries and literary thrillers are formulaic or familiar; if you can’t guess what’s going to happen, there are predictable possibilities. Reading WHITEOUT, I had no idea what was coming next. On every page, the ground gave out beneath me. It was refreshing, exciting, and, yes, thrilling. WHITEOUT ensnared me, surprised me, and made me question the characters I was coming to love, who are complex, conflicted, and fascinating.
And I know that the next time I sit down to read it, it will surprise me all over again. No matter the season, if you want a lovely set of goosebumps, put WHITEOUT on your to-read list. Just make sure to read with the lights on.