Home Arts Literature Book Review: Snow-Dark Crossing

Book Review: Snow-Dark Crossing

Reviewed by Lindsey Grutchfield.
Kevin Macneil Brown’s new mystery, Snow-Dark Crossing, centers on the death of a University of Vermont American history professor. The police think it’s murder, but it takes some research to prove their theory and find the perpetrator. Because of the nature of the professor’s work, the cops call on a history teacher named Liam Dutra, the novel’s protagonist, to investigate a project the professor was working on before her demise—a project that harks back to the race relations of Prohibition-era central Vermont. Unfortunately for Liam, what was supposed to be a safe, if somewhat intriguing, research project digs up dangerous truths from times gone by.
Brown’s writing style seems almost to echo that of a classic hard-boiled detective story, which plays well into the dark undertones of a time when the Ku Klux Klan had a well-established presence in Vermont, campaigning against the immigrants that so heavily populated the working-class precincts of Montpelier and Barre.
In sharp contrast to this occasionally brusque writing style, lavish descriptions of hills and streams give Snow-Dark Crossing their flavor, too. It is a novel with a firm sense of time and place, painting a rich picture of Montpelier and the surrounding area that will strike a chord with any native Vermonter. Were they any less accurate, these descriptions would be a touch overwrought, but Brown seems to speak from the heart and his depictions ring true.
Just as rich in their description are the characters—from dreamy, thoughtful Liam to his practical, pregnant girlfriend, Shawn. Lesser players are similarly fleshed out, and as the story takes shape, there are no caricatures among the cast of characters—a blessing in a genre in which it is too easy to pit pure good against pure evil. Snow-Dark Crossing is not nearly so predictable, and indeed one of the novel’s greatest virtues is that the mystery itself unfolds as the story progresses, and the mystery’s explanation is never clear or obvious.
Brown builds his novel from many sometimes opposing elements: the curt style of a classic detective story, the lavish depictions of both characters and setting, and the unpredictability of the evolving mystery. He does not weave those elements together effortlessly, and the contrasts are occasionally a touch jarring. The disparate elements of the story nevertheless manage in some way to mesh with one another, and the end result is a story that is not only an interesting read, but a beautiful ode to the author’s home.