Hannah Griffin was a girl when tragedy struck on her family's farm. She still remembers the flames reflected against the newly fallen snow and the bodies the police dug up--one of them her mother's. It was the nation's worst murder scene in decades and the killer was never found....Twenty years later Hannah is a talented CSI investigating a case of child abuse when the past comes hurtling back. Years of buried questions are brought to life. A killer with unfinished business is on the hunt. And an anonymous message turns Hannah's blood cold:
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In his first novel, true crime writer Olsen (The Deep Dark) brings complex mystery and crackling authenticity to bear on a cold case police procedural. Hannah Griffin has spent most of her life trying to forget the notorious Christmas Eve house fire that claimed her family and turned up almost two dozen other bodies buried in their yard; though the case remained unsolved, Hannah's mother became, posthumously, the de facto prime suspect. Twenty years later, Hannah's a happily married mother of one, a crime scene investigator for Santa Louisa, Calif., and a lifetime away from her traumatic Oregon childhood--until a series of mysterious events indicates that her mother may still be alive. Hannah reopens the case, as well as old wounds, after enlisting the help of FBI Special Agent Jeff Bauer, the still-haunted chief officer from the original investigation. Thanks to Olsen's true-crime work, the case's particulars--both grisly and mundane--all carry genuine weight, though his characters can be cloying: Hannah's neuroses occasionally seem more dingbat than damaged, and Agent Bauer's tough-but-tender act is a familiar one. That said, Olsen's flashback narrative shines with lurid, carefully distributed details, and if it ultimately overshadows the present-day plot, his bizarre, many-layered mystery will keep fans of crime fiction hooked. (Mar.)
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February 28, 2007
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Excerpt from A Wicked Snow by Gregg Olsen
The sun cut over the jagged edge of the San Gabriel Mountains. Sharp and bright, its rays hacked through the haze from the millions who crawled to work on the hot, gummy freeways of the Los Angeles basin fifty-five miles away. Magenta clouds of bougainvillea softened the chain-link fences corralling the cinder-block homes lining Cabrillo Avenue, the busiest street into Santa Louisa. As Hannah Griffin drove to work on a sunny August morning, a newsman's voice droned on about the date being the anniversary of President Nixon's resignation. Even at that hour, Hannah was not the first to pull into the parking lot of the Santa Louisa County Courthouse where she had worked in the crime investigations unit for the past five and a half years. She guided the burgundy Volvo wagon into a spot east of a stand of eucalyptus that ran along the median. Messy trees, ugly trees, she thought. But when the temperature hit the ninety-degree mark as had been warned by the weatherman, shade would make a difference before the day was over. Hannah craned her neck and reached for a cardboard shield her husband had bought her to prevent the dashboard from cracking in the heat. On one side was a pair of cartoon sunglasses with eyebrows arched over the lenses. On the other, foot-tall letters: Call 911! Emergency!
Santa Louisa County was an hour and a half northeast of Los Angeles. It was a world away from California's most imitated and chided city. Santa Louisa, the county and the town that shared the same name, was nothing but a Southern California footnote. Santa Louisa's biggest industry was agriculture. Flower seeds grew in a zigzag afghan that gave the monotony of the landscape a Crayola jolt with strawflowers and bachelor's buttons. A welcome sign into town invited tourists to have a BLOOMING GOOD TIME. Hannah, her husband, Ethan, and their daughter, Amber, made the pilgrimage to the flower fields every spring. Amber looked like her father--at least Hannah thought so as she studied her profile. Amber's nose was a slight ski jump, like Ethan's. Her blond hair was wavy, as was Ethan's. Whenever Hannah told Ethan their daughter resembled him, he'd exaggerate a cringing reaction. It was, Hannah knew, an act. In reality, Ethan was very handsome, and if Amber looked like him, she'd grow up to be a good-looking woman. That spring, as in the others, the couple took turns snapping photographs of their eight-year-old, up to her waist in yellow and blue.