The New York Times Book Review
Cloudlandby Joseph Olshan
A stunning literary thriller set in rural Vermont from the much praised author of Nightswimmer and Clara's Heart
Once a major reporter for a national newspaper, Catherine Winslow has retreated to the Upper Valley of Vermont to write a household hints column. While out walking during an early spring thaw, Catherine discovers the body of a woman/p>/i>/i>
A stunning literary thriller set in rural Vermont from the much praised author of Nightswimmer and Clara's Heart
Once a major reporter for a national newspaper, Catherine Winslow has retreated to the Upper Valley of Vermont to write a household hints column. While out walking during an early spring thaw, Catherine discovers the body of a woman leaning against an apple tree near her house. From the corpse's pink parka, Winslow recognizes her as the latest victim of a serial killer, a woman reported missing weeks before during a blizzard.
When her neighbor, a forensic psychiatrist, is pulled into the investigation, Catherine begins to discover some unexpected connections to the serial murders. One is that the murders might be based on a rare unfinished Wilkie Collins novel that is missing from her personal library. The other is her much younger lover from her failed affair has unexpectedly resurfaced and is trying to maneuver his way back into her affections.
Elegant, haunting and profoundly gripping, Cloudland is an ingenious psychological trap baited with murder, deception and the intricacies of desire.
The New York Times Book Review
“Joseph Olshan has stepped up and hit one for the home team. The bracing clarity of his prose…observes the destructive impact [the] killings have on this isolated region.” Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
“Evocative… the intricate whodunnit has faint echoes of [Wilkie] Collins with Catherine in the role of his ‘Woman In White,' wandering desolate hills, but not trying nearly hard enough to escape her past.” The Boston Globe
“CLOUDLAND is a lyrical love poem to that region (Vermont, New Hampshire) – its landscape, its weather, its people – and also to the writings of Wilkie Collins, whose Victorian-era writings helped lay the groundwork for the mystery genre.” The Charlotte Observer
“The effect of violence on small communities is one of the most provocative themes for mystery fiction. Joseph Olshan expands that plot…[He] makes a bold and quite effective foray into crime fiction.” Oline Cogdill, The Florida Sun Sentinel
“A fine writer.” The Washington Post
“Olshan, has a reputation for writing beautifully….Cloudland is a love letter to Vermont.” The Washington Independent Book Review
“In this refreshingly cliché-free serial-killer tale, Olshan tries his hand with a female narrator/heroine, whom he handles just as deftly as his sensitive male heroes. Although all these chilly, hurting souls are well worth your time, the real keeper is Catherine. Even as you wonder who the killer will turn out to be, you'll worry mainly about how she's going to come through all this.” Kirkus Reviews
“A crash course in Wilkie Collins, wrapped in a thrilling contemporary mystery.” Mystery Scene Magazine
“Unlike the more common, adrenaline-fueled serial-killer thrillers, this is literary, character-driven fiction with remarkable empathy not only for those whom murder leaves behind but also for the perpetrator. Another fine performance from a critically acclaimed author.” Booklist
“Rarely do you find a story with characters so fully developed that you feel as if they might live next door. Conjuring a distinctly 19th-century atmosphere, Olshan excels at crafting a Dickensian literary piece.” Library Journal
“Olshan's writing is frequently stunning, particularily when he's describing the landscape of the book's Vermont setting, and he's crafted...a handful of interesting small town types...” The A.V. Club (The Onion)
“Cloudland (Minotaur) is one of those books that grabs you by the neck and pulls you in, unrelenting and completely taking you..” CrimeSpree Magazine
“CLOUDLAND, by Joseph Olshan, is obviously a crime novel and a great one at that….The book is not just about mystery – it is also about fascinating characters.” The Hungry Reader
“This is a gripping crime novel, with a perfect ending, a surprise that doesn't come out of the blue, but fits the story. The isolated setting, and the story of the murdered women are vividly created in this book. Readers who are fans of S.J. Bolton's atmospheric thrillers should try Olshan's Cloudland. Cloudland isn't Olshan's first book. However, it's his first crime novel, and it's pitch perfect.” Lesa's Critiques
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Read an Excerpt
By Joseph Olshan
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Joseph Olshan
All rights reserved.
It was under an apple tree that I saw her — up the road on the walk that I've taken hundreds of times in my life. I noticed her pink parka and thought: she's out here drinking in the unusual warmth of late March; her face to the sun, hardy soul she must be, sitting there tanning in a crater of melting snow. I didn't have my dogs with me because they're older and arthritic and because the muddy road was deeply rutted, slippery with glare ice.
I usually go a half mile up the road to the red farm with a glass greenhouse where my painter friend raises orange trees that bear fruit all winter. Then I make a slow turn and wander back. I'm usually thinking about my deadline; that day I was grateful that a trusty reader from Mississippi had sent me a formula for ridding white T-shirts of armpit stains. When I passed the orchard, there she was again: the pink parka, the face still canted to the sun at the same angle, and — I realized for the first time — completely still. Now I stopped, partly because of how motionless she was, but also because I could hear Virgil and Mrs. Billy barking back at the house. The shift in wind direction had probably brought them her scent.
Sinking into the soft, crusty snow, I took wobbly steps toward her, somehow knowing not to call out, but still not knowing how she might be. Ten feet away I saw the depression of snow around her, soaked in rusty brown. Now certain she was dead and the stain was blood, I made myself march on until I stood before the pale gray face, the slight double chin. I turned away for a moment, overcome with nausea. When I forced myself to look at her again I noticed beads of ice melting on her brow. I was thankful that her eyes were closed. Her parka was pretty well zipped up, but her throat was exposed and blotchy and eggplant purple, her lips bruised and black. I knew it was Angela Parker, a nurse who had disappeared in mid-January from a rest area off Interstate 91 and whose blood was found all over the inside of her car.
When she'd first gone missing and her picture was published everywhere, I actually thought I recognized her as someone who'd taken my blood several times at the hospital. I remembered the kind manner distracting me from the needle, nimble fingers making the draw much less of an ouch. She was the sixth victim in two years.
Long before Angela Parker was buried in the orchard snow, I'd imagine all sorts of marauders: hunters heading home from a day in the woods; drug runners from Canada on their way down through Vermont toward Boston or Providence. My driveway is just a quarter-mile long, so the rumor of passing cars filters through to me, especially when leaves have fallen and there is no buffer to the sound. I hear most of everything that passes.
And motorists have always mistaken this road for a more popular thoroughfare another half mile down Route 12. They usually recognize their error by the time they're cresting the first long hill, which is precisely where my driveway begins. Often at night I've been sitting at my writing desk, sifting through correspondence from people who read my advice columns, when a pair of headlamps telescopes through my rolled-glass windows. Somebody will have made a wrong turn onto my land, their car paused, its lighted eyes staring and blinding. Sometimes a car has ventured close enough to the house that the motion detector lamps have switched on. I've stopped working and waited until the vehicle began moving again.
But after the discovery of her body was reported all over the northeast, I found myself wondering if the killer would read the article, would learn that I was a forty-one-year-old woman living alone up here on Cloudland. I began to worry that each wandering tourist was the man whose DNA the police had been unable to detect — always the killer in my mind's eye, never some flatlander looking for Advent Road, whose famous B & B has been written up in all the travel magazines.
A few years ago, my editor at the newspaper syndicate said to me, "I can't imagine anyone would dare to bother you when you have dogs and a domestic pig no less."
"Why would a bunch of animals stand in the way?"
"Because they'd protect you."
I looked at my babies and thought: Would you? Could you? My house pig, Henrietta, often got angry and territorial. She'd rush the dogs and knock them over. I always wondered if she had it in her to take out a murderer before that murderer could stick his knife into her heart.
The night Angela Parker was stabbed and dumped unceremoniously in the apple orchard, there were no lost tourists, no invasion of headlamps; we had a snowstorm with blizzard conditions. The flakes were funneling down like pestilence, stinging my nineteenth-century windows. The wind was howling, its drafts seeping through the old bony rafters of the house. I was trying out a recipe for marble cake that somebody from Omaha had sent me, mixing white flour with cornmeal and threading dark chocolate into the batter. I heard the town truck dredging through, its yellow wing plow carving the fresh snow up into waves. The plowman remembers a single pair of virgin tire tracks winding along the deep drifts, tracks that, in his estimation, miraculously made it up Cloudland Road's first big hill before they vanished.
Earlier that day Angela Parker had met some of her hospital coworkers at a ski resort in southern Vermont. Driving home she stopped at the Hartland rest area on Interstate 91 sometime between five and seven P.M. She called her husband from a pay phone to say she'd made it that far in the storm. But she never turned up at home, and the following day her car was found in the parking bay of the rest area. By then she was already ten miles away from where she was abducted, just up the road from me. And to think that each time I went for a walk I had passed within fifteen yards of this mother of two lying in a vault of snow that would entomb her for the rest of January and February and most of March. Her husband grew so distraught when she disappeared that he ended up begging his parents to move up from Tewksbury, Massachusetts, to take care of him and his children.
When they finally brought her down from Cloudland, the road was so clotted with spring mud that the funeral home had to borrow a four-wheel drive. I couldn't help but watch them load her rigid body onto the stretcher, just the way I couldn't help watching when Hiram Osmond, our local "knacker man," arrived with chains to winch my dead farm animals up into his pickup truck, taking them home to hack and boil. I also watched hunters lug their quarry out of the forest: dead bucks with glazed, opaque eyes and huge pink slits in their bellies. I watched the seasons blend: a spike of warmth in midwinter, then a venomous cold that gave rise to the frost heaves that sent cars careering off the road. But when the ice finally thawed and the ponds caved in with a bellow, those apple trees where I found her had begun to throw their buds.CHAPTER 2
Angela parker was murdered on a Saturday, the holy day to Seventh-Day Adventists, who were among the first settlers of New England. If you comb my forest you'll find abandoned homesteads with remnants of stone foundations that look like walls built to nowhere. In one of the interstices my daughter once found somebody's notebook, moldering yellowed pages of faded cursive recounting Bible stories: David and Goliath, Ruth and Boaz, Naaman's little servant girl, and the fisherman Peter learning how to tend sheep.
The Seventh-Day Adventists believe that after death every soul sleeps until the Day of Judgment, that the departed can slumber for millennia until they are finally wakened to stand judgment with the rest of the living and the dead. Even those long dead will feel upon resurrection as if they have been sleeping scarely one minute.
The afternoon I discovered Angela Parker's body and raced back to the house, I dialed 911 and reached the local dispatcher, a temporary I didn't know, who actually disbelieved me when I said, "This is Catherine Winslow up on Cloudland. I'm pretty certain I just found the body of Angela Parker, the nurse who's been missing."
"And how would you know that?" asked the surly woman.
I ignored her attitude. "Why don't you patch me through to Nelson?"
"It's Sunday. Chief O'Reilly don't come in on Sundays."
"Okay, well, I'm just outside town, so you probably should send a Statie."
I undoubtedly sounded sure of myself because she asked, "Do you work for us?"
"No," I said, and then reminded her to tell the Staties that I was the first house on Cloudland Road.
Chief O'Reilly told me subsequently that for some reason the dispatcher's caller ID read out the same exchange as the mental hospital in Waterbury; the poor woman probably imagined that I was a loony.
The state police barracks in Bethel sent Leslie Fullerton, a doughy young man who'd been unmercifully teased at Woodstock High for his unfortunate name and his weight problem. The torment he endured probably inspired him to become a Statie in order to pull rank on all those who once abused him. I'd been waiting for his arrival at the end of my driveway, and when the green cruiser finally showed and the window rolled down, he looked apprehensive. "Hello, Mrs. Winslow. I heard you think you found the ... nurse."
I nodded and told him I believed I had.
"Well, hop on in." Together we drove up the rutted, muddy road, the bare trees bowing against the sharp, late-March wind, ravines and streams surging wildly with runoff, little craters of brown peeking through the diminishing snow mass on the broad fields. The cruiser bounced and skidded in the mud as we climbed the short distance to the orchard. I was asking Leslie why the state didn't equip more of their vehicles with all-wheel drive when the two-way radio blared a burst of loud static. He never bothered to answer me. When we finally arrived, he looked toward the body leaning against the apple tree, shook his head, and almost seemed hesitant.
"You stay here," he said.
Glad that I didn't have to lay my eyes once again on Angela Parker, I watched Leslie, all 230 pounds of him, struggling across the orchard in two feet of soft corn snow, sinking down in places I'd glided over. He suddenly tripped and fell forward. "Fuck!" I heard him say. He got up again and approached the dead woman. He leaned toward her for a moment, shook his head, and then began shambling back, his face crimson, his eyes dazed. He climbed in next to me, winded. "There's a big tree down. I fell over it." He grabbed his heart-shaped dispatch radio and called in a code. The immediate response was garbled to me but intelligible to Leslie, who said, "Affirmative ... to what the coroner says." Then to me, "Dr. Stern crossed Lake Champlain and is out of range. So we've got to get the local deputy coroner."
Leslie completed a three-point reverse on the tight road and we began driving the rutted throughfare back to my place.
"Dr. Malcolm Banfield," I said after a few moments of gloomy silence. "Good luck on Sunday. That's the day he goes around euthanizing people."
Leslie shook his head and said, "Oh great." With a glance in the rearview mirror back toward where Angela Parker lay, "Means I'll probably be there all night securing the site until they can get down from Burlington."
Imagining the desolate task of guarding the body, I shivered and said, "Well, I can offer you plenty of coffee and homemade doughnuts. I don't sleep much most nights anyway, so I may as well drive up and bring you refills."
Leslie grunted and thanked me for the offer.
Back at the house Virgil and Mrs. Billy greeted us with howling barks, Henrietta oddly absent. When I led Leslie into the kitchen I could see that my 250pound potbellied pig once again had gnawed through the childproof plastic lock on the garbage cabinet, rummaged through the bin, and was lying on her side, scarfing a bunch of lemon rinds. "Look at you!" I scolded, and she stopped and peeked at me with a familiar craven glint in her eye. I was too rattled by now to care.
"Holy shit," Leslie said when he saw Henrietta. "She doesn't bite, does she?"
"Do you?" was my answer.
My calendar was lying on the kitchen counter, and I saw my own notation that Malcolm Banfield and his wife (who substituted for me at the local prison where I taught a writing class) were actually away on vacation. When Leslie learned this, he began radioing for the name of the deputy assistant medical examiner. I interrupted to say it was Brenda Moore and that I also had her phone number. "You're sure on top of things, aren't you, Mrs. Winslow?" he said with a sarcastic edge.
"Well, I don't feel like it," I said, blinking and seeing afterimages of pink.
Taking in the room with a glance, noticing the piles of books and magazines on the dining room table, Leslie said, "Man, you got lots of reading to do."
"I collect information for my column. And for my column I've interviewed both Malcolm Banfield and Brenda Moore. That's why I have their phone numbers. Brenda also deals with the prison."
"Yeah, that's right. You teach at the prison, don't you?"
"Every other Monday."
"Anyway, not to contradict, but the barracks will have to be the ones to call her."
A moment later the dogs went crazy barking again, and I went to look out my study windows. Several state police cars had swerved into my driveway, as well as an unmarked Jeep Cherokee, enough commotion so that even Henrietta left her snack of lemon parings and barreled ahead over to the sliding glass door to survey the new arrivals.
"Your buddies are here," I informed Leslie, watching men in starched uniforms emerging from their vehicles. He hurried outside to join them, and I numbly followed and stood just outside the door. I immediately recognized Detective Marco Prozzo, in an ill-fitting sharkskin suit, getting out of the unmarked car. Prozzo was the Springfield-based detective running the serial murder investigation from the Vermont side of things. On local television I'd seen this New Jersey transplant meandering around with volunteer crews searching for missing bodies. A short, squat man with a wide nose and full, asymmetrical lips, Prozzo gathered the group together in the driveway, presumably to discuss investigation strategies. I assumed he would have to honor the protocol of steering clear of the victim until the coroner's own personal Statie could arrive. "Yeah, well, guess what," I heard the detective say. "He didn't answer his page or his cell. We can't wait too long. There could be something crucial here."
"Won't be a happy coroner," one of the Staties warned him.
"I'll take the heat," Prozzo said.
The reprieve of the unseasonably mild temperature was quickly fading as a northern chill knifed through my cardigan. I pulled its flaps around me.
The detective turned toward me and called out, "You must be Catherine Winslow, hello there. I need to ask —" The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the county sheriff in his white SUV. Leslie had been telling the others about the sorry state of Cloudland Road, and it was quickly decided that they should pile in the all-wheel-drive car to travel the short distance to the site of the body. As the men began squeezing in, Prozzo took a few steps closer to me. "What time would you say you first saw her?" I checked my watch and estimated that I'd made my first pass around 2:30 P.M. He thanked me with a wink and joined the others.
* * *
Three days later, my Cloudland neighbor, Anthony Waite, invited me to lunch at Joanie's Café in Hartland Three Corners. Anthony, a doctor from Canada, came to live on Cloudland when his wife was offered a college professorship at Colby-Sawyer College in nearby New Hampshire. He worked at the psychiatric hospital down in Springfield, the only place that was hiring when they moved to the area. Anthony also had invited one of our only other Cloudland residents, Paul Winter, an internationally recognized painter.
Excerpted from Cloudland by Joseph Olshan. Copyright © 2012 Joseph Olshan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Joseph Olshan is the award-winning author of ten novels including Nightswimmer and The Conversion. He spends most of the year in Vermont.
Joseph Olshan is the award-winning author of eight novels. His first novel was Clara's Heart, which went on to be made into a film starring Whoopi Goldberg. His other novels include Nightswimmer and In Clara's Hands. In addition he has written extensively for newspapers and magazines and for several years was a professor of Creative Writing at New York University. He spends most of the year in Vermont.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Cloudland I enjoyed Cloudland very much..Mr. Olshan transported me to a relatively isolated rural Vermont area where a murder victim is discovered as the snow slowly melts with the season change.. I was instantly taken in by the writing style. The main character is Catherine Winslow and she is the person who discovers the body. She lives alone in that rural area. The tension builds as Catherine begins to piece together clues...This psychological thriller will appeal to men and women who enjoy an involved, more literary work. Susan Simon
I picked up this novel after hearing the author interviewed on New Hampshire Public Radio. I spent yesterday reading it and was struck by a number of strengths. First of all, he writes beautifully, which is rare to find in a suspense novel. Yes of course you get fine writing in the novels of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell and Dorothy Sayers and, of course John Le Carre. Nevertheless, I was struck by the lyrical approach the author took to writing about murders and fear and longing. The novel is really a hybrid of a literary novel and a novel of suspense such that we'd find in the work of Wilkie Collins, whose own work figures prominently in Olshan's plot. There were enough twists and turns to satisfy me, perhaps not as much as in, say, Defending Jacob, but this is not a courtroom drama, it's a novel with fully realized, complicated characters and that alone compelled my attention.
Not a page turner for me but I did enjoy reading it.
very easy to put down and I did so frequently. Bored with plot and story.But I good choice if you want to cure your insomnia fast