Snow doesn't just fall on cedars on Michigan's Upper Peninsula: it coats everything, mobile and inanimate, in a treacherously quick, dangerously thick blanket of white. As Alex McKnight observes, gazing out the window of his cabin in Paradise, "It looked like about six inches of new snow. Around here, that qualifies as scattered flurries." Given this climate, the urge to hibernate is perfectly understandable--batten down the hatches, throw another log on the fire, and wait until the spring thaw. For Alex, the denning impulse is as much psychological as it is physical. Haunted by memories of his deadly failures as a cop, a private investigator, and a lover, Alex wants nothing more than to plow his driveway, be cordial to the snowmobilers who rent his cabins, and lower his core emotional temperature to the forgetting point. Unfortunately, he's got friends who get in the way of his seasonal plans.
When Vinnie LeBlanc, an Ojibwa Indian, convinces Alex to fill in as goalie for his hockey team, slap shots and hard checks are soon the least of his worries. Instead, he becomes embroiled in a tangle of conflicting allegiances; one of his opponents, Lonnie Bruckman, a bigot and a psychotic, is terrorizing the Ojibwa reservation in ways both personal and professional: he abuses his girlfriend, Dorothy Parrish, and sells "wild cat," a methamphetamine derivative, to members of the reservation. Dorothy--desperate to escape her Ojibwa heritage but reluctantly acknowledging its force--turns up on Alex's front door with a mysterious canvas bag and a plea for shelter: "'The wolf moon means it's time to protect the people around you because there are wolves outside your door.'" But the next day, she's gone.
As Alex, devastated by his inability to protect Dorothy, tries to find her, he must confront Bruckman--for whom a snowmobile is less a recreational vehicle than an instrument of torture; a mysterious Russian named Molinov; the combined forces of the local police and the DEA; and, it seems, even those he has always considered friends. Luckily for Alex, Leon Prudell, "a two-hundred-forty-pound whirlwind of flannel and snowboots," who really, really wants to be a private investigator, is right there to lend a hand. Leon adds a welcome note of comic relief to the novel (as does, to be sure, Alex's own dryly sardonic wit), but the book's tone is largely elegiac: "It was the middle of the day, but with the sun hidden behind the clouds and the weight of snow in the air, there was an oddly muted light, dim yet persistent, as each snowflake seemed to glow with its own energy. I stopped for a moment ... hypnotized by the sight of it and by the sound of my own breathing." Surviving winter takes many kinds of courage, and the reader will be enthralled by Alex's efforts to disprove Molinov's ominous warning, "'Once you freeze all the way through to your soul, you will never feel warm again. You'll see.'"
Steve Hamilton won the 1999 Edgar Award for his first Alex McKnight mystery, A Cold Day in Paradise, and Winter of the Wolf Moon will reassure readers that neither beginner's luck nor sophomore jinx troubles this author. --Kelly Flynn