Review: At the heart of Nadine Doolittle's debut novel Iced Under is the frightening concept of whether seven-year-old Oralee Pelletier missing for the last six months has been abducted by a person or persons unknown or is, as an inquest concludes, a victim of "death by misadventure." It's a mystery that ensnares about-to-be-finally-divorced Sara Wolseley and her two daughters, eight-year-old Darcy and thirteen-year-old Brittany, who have relocated from the comforts of a Toronto Beaches house to a rustic cottage in Quebec's small town Stollerton where "the population hovered perpetually at eight hundred," and the town itself "hung on to existence with the tenacity of a weed." The trio have barely gotten to meet their neighbours and learn the hardships of winter living in a summer cottage beside Hennessy Lake before Sara discovers the Pelletier child's body floating in the weeds beneath the hard-frozen lake. It's a gruesome find and the beginning of a trail of clues leading to a number of suspects, any of whom at any time appear to be more or less guilty of anything from obstructing justice, to complicity, to abduction to kiddie porn to murder- even to a family killing some twenty-seven years ago at the old Hennessy House.
An actor-turned-mystery author, Doolittle shows a lot of potential for her new career. The plot is well managed with its mixture of mysteries and Sara's deteriorating family circumstances as a nearly poverty stricken divorcee, but with perhaps a clue or two too many to reveal the resolution to the child's disappearance too soon. And sadly, there are several distracting typos and missing words that interrupt the flow of the narrative. The characterization, however, is well done, and even minor characters like Sara's estranged television-director husband and his new family in Toronto, and the former actor who died and left her the cottage or the Detective Sergeant in charge of the case appear to be real people to like or despise as required by the story. Oralee's booze-besotted mother, with her secret about Oralee's disappearance and her conviction that her daughter has been killed, comes across sympathetically as does Sara left "standing in the driveway with fourteen years of marriage plastered to her face." Giller Hennessy, Sara's romantic interest in the story is a suitable lover for her to rescue from his depression over a long-ago murder-suicide even as she struggles with her own troubles with an undependable car and a menial job cleaning the neighbours' houses. And her employer, Charlene, the bosomy master manipulator of everyone she meets, and who pushes Sara to the verge of alcoholism and self-doubt with her lies, is a work of wickedness to behold. Charlene's anorexic, self-destructive teen-aged daughter, Ayla, also has a secret or two about Oralee's disappearance, and other things to be coaxed from her too about someone she hates, as Sara discovers. Sara's own two kids are suitably described as well, the one the pre-teen still needing her mom, the other the teenager finding her mom and her ministrations insufferable.
Doolittle's adept at descriptive settings too. Whether it's a countryside in winter, or a rural library that doles out second hand clothing, or a sugar shack, or a toymaker's shop of aromatic wooden carvings, or a country store where "There were homey displays of tea towels and wooden spoons set out on gingham, and a small refrigerated deli counter that housed rolls of bologna and blocks of cheese to be ordered by the slice." Or there's the nightmare sighting of Oralee's face under the ice, "chalk white against the black water" before "Sara woke, choking on her saliva." And then there's the lingering thought that another woman "was living in her house. Touching her dishes. Using her bath towels. Sleeping in her bed with her husband. And now she wants her children too."
Given her achievements here, Nadine Doolittle's name is one to watch for in the future. Meanwhile, there's Iced Under to be read and enjoyed.
Special thanks to M. Wayne Cunningham (firstname.lastname@example.org) for contributing his review of Iced Under.
Acknowledgment: Nadine Doolittle provided a copy of Iced Under for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — M. Wayne Cunningham — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Location(s) referenced in Iced Under: Quebec, Canada
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Iced Under by Nadine Doolittle
Publisher: Bayeux Arts
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: November 2008
List Price: $21.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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