The Ice Harvest: A Novel
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The Ice Harvest: A Novel

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by Scott Phillips

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–The New York Times Book Review

“A FUTURE HARD-BOILED CLASSIC–TIGHT, COLD, AND CACKLING WITH IRONY. On Christmas Eve [in Wichita], a mob lawyer is skipping town with the cash. But in this boozy,


–The New York Times Book Review

“A FUTURE HARD-BOILED CLASSIC–TIGHT, COLD, AND CACKLING WITH IRONY. On Christmas Eve [in Wichita], a mob lawyer is skipping town with the cash. But in this boozy, neo-noir world–James M. Cain meets George V. Higgins–the best-laid plans of bagmen turn brutal.”
–The Dallas Morning News

“OMINOUS, ACTION-PACKED. . . This is a confident, wry debut . . . [that] may remind readers of Fargo or Pulp Fiction.”
–Detroit Free Press

“I SIMPLY CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT SCOTT PHILLIPS WILL DO NEXT. [This] funny, tough first novel felt like it was written by an old pro, an Elmore Leonard we’ve never heard about who’s discovered a place where the criminals are really dumb, the low-lifes are oh-so-fun to watch and, if somebody just happens to get what he deserves, there’s no one to blame.”
Author of Straight Man

–The Denver Post

Finalist for the Hammett Prize

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews
Our Review
Wichita's Slick and Slimy
The setting may be seedy, but in The Ice Harvest, the debut novel from Scott Phillips, the writing is top-notch all the way through.

It's Christmas Eve, 1979, but Charlie Arglist lives in a world where Christmas, family, and presents all take a back seat to the schemes of the people who inhabit the underbelly of Wichita, Kansas. Tonight, however, if everything goes according to plan, Charlie's getting out of Wichita a rich man.

Charlie is an attorney, but he's the kind of lawyer who spends much less time in the courtroom than he does paying off cops and holding compromising photos of politicians over their heads. His business associates own strip clubs, and his friends, if you can call them that, are the people he knows from the bars he frequents. When he bumps into his ex-brother-in-law, who is so drunk that he needs a ride home to the Christmas celebration being given by Charlie's former parents-in-law, Charlie realizes he can't even remember the last time he saw his kids and wonders if he should even bother saying good-bye to them before he skips town.

As Charlie moves through Wichita, trying to kill time before 2am, when he meets with Vic to finalize their quick getaway, planned for Christmas morning, it becomes clear that as vile as Charlie is, he's probably the most decent person he knows. Everybody he knows will gladly lie, cheat, and steal to get anything, preying on any weakness to take full advantage of people. Charlie is no saint, but his planned ticket out of town doesn't include hurting innocent people or murder. At least, that's not what he has planned. But as events spin out of his control, Charlie has to do whatever it takes to stay alive until Christmas morning.

It is a testament to Scott Phillips's writing and humorous irony that he has created a reprehensible protagonist you can't help but root for. The other characters who orbit Charlie range from worse to worst and definitely deserve whatever they get, but Phillips makes it fun to watch these people in action -- even if their actions are pretty odious. Phillips's easy style makes The Ice Harvest a quick and enjoyable read, but there are enough plot twists that the reader never has the upper hand. This sleazy, sexy novel is like a decadent sin -- the worse these characters behave, the more fun it is.

--Jennifer Jarett

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

At four-fifteen on a cold, dry Christmas Eve a nervous
middle-aged man in an expensive overcoat walked
bare-headed into the Midtown Tap Room and stood at the
near end of the bar with his membership card in hand,
waiting for the afternoon barmaid to get off the phone.
She was about forty, heavy in a square way, with a shiny
face and dishwater blond hair that looked like she'd got
shitfaced and decided to cut it herself. He knew she'd
noticed him coming in, but she was taking great pains to
pretend she couldn't see him. To do so she had to stand
at a peculiar angle, leaning her hip against the back bar
and looking off toward the back door so that she was
facing neither the lawyer nor the mirror behind her. lawyer nor the
mirror behind her. neither the lawyer nor the
mirror behind her.

The only other drinker at that hour was a small, very
slender young man in a fully buttoned jean jacket who sat
leaning with his elbow on the bar, his cheek resting on the
heel of his wrist with a cigarette between his index and
middle fingers, its ash end burning dangerously close to the
tip of his oily pompadour. His eyes were closed and his
mouth open.

The lawyer unbuttoned his overcoat and stood there for
a minute, listening to the barmaid's phone conversation.
She had just the start of a drinker's rasp, and if he were just
hearing her on the phone and not looking at her he'd have
thought it sounded sexy. She seemed to be having some
kind of roommate trouble involving a fender bender, a borrowed
car, and no insurance, and it didn't look as though
she'd be noticing him anytime soon.

He couldn'tremember ever seeing the Tap Room in
daylight before, if the failing gray light filtering through the
grime on the front windows qualified as such. It was a deep,
narrow old building with a battered pressed-tin ceiling and
a long oak bar. On the brick wall behind the bandstand
hung a huge black-faced clock with fluorescent purple numbers,
and running the length of the opposite wall was a row
of red Naugahyde booths. All of this was festooned with
cheap plastic holly and mistletoe. Around the walls seven
feet or so from the floor ran a string of multicolored Christmas
lights, unplugged at the moment. This is my last look
at this place, he thought, mildly surprised at the idea. He
hadn't been out of town for more than two or three days at
a time in fifteen years.

A squeal from the barmaid interrupted his reverie. "Jesus
Christ, Gary, you set your hair on fire!" Young Gary
looked up in cross-eyed bewilderment at the hiss of the wet
rag she was patting against his smoldering forelock. He protested
weakly and unintelligibly as she snatched his cigarette
away from him and ground it out in the ashtray, then
put the ashtray behind the bar. "It's obvious you can't be
trusted with these anymore," she said as she confiscated his
cigarettes and lighter. He started to say something in his
own defense, but stopped and closed his eyes again, resting
his cheek back down on his hands. "You'll get these back
tomorrow," she said. "You want another drink?" Gary nodded
yes without opening his eyes.

Now she looked up at the newcomer, feigning surprise.

"Oh, hi. Didn't see you come in." She gave his membership
card a perfunctory glance. "What can I get you?"

"CC, water back." She turned without a word and busied
herself making his drink, following it with another for
Gary. "Is Tommy in back?" the man said as she set the
drinks down.

"Nope. He'll be in tonight."
"Could you give him this for me?" He handed her an

"Sure," she said. She took the envelope from his hand
and turned it over a couple of times as though looking for a
set of instructions.

"Tell him it's from Charlie Arglist."

"Charlie Arglist?" There was genuine surprise in her
voice this time. She lowered her head, cocking it to one
side, giving him a close look. "Charlie, is that you?"
"Yeah . . ." At that moment he was certain he'd never
seen the woman before in his life.

"Jesus, Charlie, it's me, Susie Tannenger. Wow, have
you ever changed." She stepped back to let him get a better
look at her. The Susie Tannenger he remembered was a
lithe, pretty thing, at least six or eight years younger than
he was. He had handled a divorce for her about ten years
earlier, and in the course of the proceedings her husband,
a commercial pilot, had threatened several times to kill

She came around the bar and gave him a hug, a hard
one with a discreet little pelvic bump thrown in. Her ex
had had good reason to want to kill him; he had taken out
his fee in trade, at her suggestion, on his desktop.

"Isn't life funny? Are you still a lawyer? Hey, Gary,
check it out--this is the guy that did my first divorce!"

Gary looked up, focused for a split second, then grunted
and returned to his private ruminations.

"Charlie, this is my fiance, Gary. Shit, I didn't even know
you were still in town; we gotta get together sometime."

"Yeah, we should do that." Charlie knocked back his
drink and set a five-dollar bill on the table. "Well, I got
some Christmas shopping left to do. Nice to see you again,

She swept up the bill and handed it back to him. "Your
money's no good here, Counselor. Merry Christmas!"

"Thanks, Susie. Same to you." He went to the door. It
was getting dark outside, and Susie hadn't yet turned the
overhead lights on. From that distance, in that dim, smoky
light, he almost recognized her. "And a happy New Year to
you both," he said as he pushed the door open and stepped
out onto the ice.

When the door closed Susie sighed and looked over at
Gary, whose head had migrated down to the bar and who
had started to snore. "There goes the second most inconsiderate
lay I ever had," she said.

Who gives a shit if I say good-bye to Tommy or not anyway?
Charlie thought. He was warm and dry behind the wheel of
the company car, a brand-new black 1980 Lincoln Continental,
the finest car he had ever driven. He was headed
west with no particular destination in mind. It was dark and
overcast, one of those days where it was impossible to tell
whether the sun was still up or not, but as yet it hadn't
started to snow. He passed the Hardee's across the street
from Grove High, watched the kids hanging around in the
parking lot the way he had when he was in school, back
when it had been a Sandy's. His kids wouldn't go to Grove,
close as they lived to it; they'd be assigned to one of the
newer and presumably nicer schools farther east. Good for
them; fuck all this nostalgia crap. He pulled a flask from the
inside pocket of his overcoat and took a long drink. Now
might be a good time to stop by the Sweet Cage; the afternoon
shift would be ending, and there were a couple of the
daytime dancers he wanted to see one last time. It was a little
after four-thirty, and he had nine and a half hours to kill.

Charlie had both hands resting on top of the wheel, trying
to screw the cap back on the flask, when he caught sight of
a police cruiser just behind him to the left, gaining slowly.
He quickly gripped the steering wheel with his left hand
and lowered the flask in his right, spilling a little bourbon
on his pant leg.

"Ah, shit . . ." He looked down at the stain, just to the
right of his crotch. "Looks like I pissed my fucking pants."
He looked up as he felt the car swerve, catching it at the
last possible moment and swinging back into the right-hand
lane. The black and white pulled up alongside him
and Charlie looked calmly over. The cop on the right rolled
his window down and Charlie did the same.

"Road sure is icy, Counselor," the cop shouted, his face
pinched against the cold wind.

"Sure is, Officer." He tried to remember the cop's name.

"You're doing forty in a school zone, you know."

"Shit. Sorry." Charlie let his foot up off the gas, and the
cops slowed down with him.

"Never know who's gonna clock you around here, Mr.

"Thanks. That's one I owe you."

"Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, guys." He held up the flask and drank
them a short toast and they accelerated away, laughing and
waving. That was a lucky fucking break, he thought. He
switched on the AM radio and rolled the tuner knob between
thumb and forefinger until he found an adenoidal
police reporter giving quick but detailed accounts of a fist fight
in a tavern, a foiled daylight burglary, and a rash of car
thefts at a local shopping mall. He closed his report with a
message from the chief of police admonishing shoppers to
lock their cars and take their keys. He was followed by an
equally adenoidal country singer's bland, stringy rendition
of "The First Noel." Charlie took another sip and wondered
who the hell burgled in the daytime, on Christmas Eve yet.

Copyright © 2001 by Scott Phillips

Meet the Author

Scott Phillips is the national bestselling author of The Walkaway and Cottonwood. His debut novel, The Ice Harvest, was a finalist for the Hammett Prize, The Edgar Award, and the Anthony Award. He was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, and lived for many years in France. He now lives with his wife and daughter in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit the author's website at

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Ice Harvest 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
It is an icy, freezing Christmas Eve in Kansas with most people staying indoors to keep warm with their families. Charlie Arglist is all alone having been divorced by his now remarried wife and estranged from his children. Charlie ran a marginally successful law practice until he joined Bill Gerard and Vic Cavanaugh, the local mobsters. Vic and Charlie have financially stripped their clients and tomorrow plan to leave the country.

Charlie is spending his last hours in town making the rounds of his favorite spots, strip bars, massage parlors, and the XXX movie theaters that represent his failed past. He looks forward to his bright future, but to stay alive he soon finds himself killing the people he thought were his buddies.

Readers who enjoy a gothic noir will like THE ICE HARVEST, a novel that looks at the underbelly of a small town on the Great Plains. The book takes place on Christmas Eve underlying the bleakness and hopelessness of the Charlies of the world who dominate the ever-darkening story line. Scott Phillips cleverly deals out information one card at a time so that the antihero¿s tale is not fully revealed until the ironic ending that will surprise the audience. Although this is Mr. Phillips¿ debut novel, it appears he has a long career ahead of him.

Harriet Klausner