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Crime Novel set in Vermont (..when the snows recede….)

28th November 2013

Cloudland by Joseph Olshan: crime novel set in Vermont.

1906413924.01.ZTZZZZZZCloudland is a ‘crime’ novel – and that is probably its least satisfactory contribution. The plot seems contrived as detective Marco Prozzo turns from one suspect to another throughout the book, and the denouement is truly unexpected and unforeseen – largely I suspect because Olshan wants to shock us with an unpredictable conclusion. I prefer a book where the reader has the opportunity to work out the ending from implanted clues as the story goes along. Cloudland is not that book (or perhaps I’m just not clever enough…)

That said, the book is truly an excellent read. It is a beautifully written piece on the impact a serial killer has on an isolated rural Vermont community. It is told through the first person narrative of Catherine Winslow – an investigative journalist turned syndicated writer of a household hints column. She and her neighbour, forensic psychiatrist Anthony Waite, work together – and with the police – to solve the crimes. Justifiable suspicions are aroused about several of their close knit community – and about a former student / lover of Catherine’s. All have different reasons for lying about their whereabouts during the time the last murder was committed. The drawing of the characters and the involvement we feel with each of them is the work of a master…

As are the descriptions of Vermont and its countryside. The book starts as the snows are melting, and ends up as they come again. The detailed descriptions of intervening floral and plant life of the State are quite remarkable and well observed – we feel absolutely drawn into the environment of the book. We are sensitive to the raw cold of winter and the stifling heat of summer. I feel I now know what this part of Vermont is about – true praise for the author. I would recognise it if I visited…

So, as a crime novel, I felt Cloudland was lacking. But as a finely observed work of a small community and the habitat in which it lives, it is anything but. This is where it really comes up trumps!

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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