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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Minnesota-born novelist Steve Thayer is, in the truest sense of the word, a regional writer. All of his fiction directly reflects his fascination with the idiosyncrasies of his native state: its people, its culture, its brutal extremes of climate, its violent and often corrupt history. His third novel, Silent Snow, is a bizarre and ambitious double sequel to his first two books: Saint Mudd, a gangster novel set in prohibition-era St. Paul; and The Weatherman, a contemporary account of a serial killer running amok in the Twin Cities. In Silent Snow, Thayer connects these two narratives, which are widely separated in time, by structuring his plot around a modern reenactment of one of the century's most notorious crimes: the Lindbergh kidnapping.
As Silent Snow opens, Rick Beanblossom — hero of The Weatherman and a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist whose face was literally burned away during a napalm attack in Vietnam — receives a mysterious communication consisting of two items: an obituary (written by Rick himself) for the recently deceased Anne Morrow Lindbergh; and a $20 gold certificate that is eventually identified as a part of the ransom money paid to Bruno Hauptman, who was executed in 1936 for the kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's one-year-old son.
Rick receives these items on March 1, 1999, the sixty-seventh anniversary of the kidnapping. That same night, against the escalating backdrop of a Minnesota blizzard, Rick's own one-year-old son is abducted in a manner that virtually duplicatesthedetails of the earlier crime. Subsequent events — the arrival of two barely literate ransom notes, an abortive rendezvous in a St. Paul cemetery — also mirror the methods employed by the Lindbergh kidnapper(s). Rick — together with his frantic wife, popular local anchorwoman Andrea Labore — quickly comes to believe that the abduction of his son is directly connected to the earlier abduction; that someone involved in the events of 1932 has survived and, for undisclosed reasons, has mounted an attack on Rick Beanblossom's well-ordered, but delicately balanced, life. While police and FBI agents organize a more traditional investigation, Rick responds to the crisis by studying the pattern of past events. His researches lead him to the earlier researches of Grover Mudd — the eponymous hero of Thayer's first novel — and Rick finds himself following in the footsteps of a journalist who has been dead for more than a half century.
From this point on, the story develops along two different timelines. The earlier segment, which is set in the vividly evoked, wide-open city of St. Paul in 1932, recounts Grover Mudd's evolving obsession with a dangerous, manipulative seductress named Esther Snow, who has in her possession some of the gold certificates from the still unsolved Lindbergh kidnapping; and who, Grover believes, is deeply, perhaps centrally, connected to the planning and execution of that kidnapping. In the contemporary sections, Rick Beanblossom pursues Grover Mudd's investigation into the world of present-day St. Paul, searching for surviving traces of the enigmatic Esther Snow.
Eventually, past and present converge, and the interconnected mysteries of the Lindbergh tragedy and the Beanblossom abduction are revealed and resolved in a dramatic finale that is played out on two fronts: in a deserted, snow-filled graveyard, and in a burning cathedral where a masked, monstrous figure right out of "The Phantom of the Opera" is gradually unveiled. En route to that conclusion, Silent Snow transforms itself in unexpected ways, becoming both a crime novel — with all of the traditional satisfactions that implies — and a ghost story, a full-tilt, no-holds-barred Gothic in which the dead literally speak; the barrier between past and present proves surprisingly permeable; and the people, places, and events of 1932 come more and more to illuminate and reflect their counterparts of 1999.
Steve Thayer is a writer who takes chances, and his latest novel represents his biggest, most successful gamble to date. It is a book that fearlessly straddles a number of popular forms — mystery, historical fiction, true crime, and Gothic horror — with confidence and great narrative facility. However you choose to categorize it, Silent Snow is one of the most unusual entertainments you are likely to encounter for quite some time. It is the work of a writer who cheerfully disregards the accepted boundaries that divide the genres, and who deserves the attention of a wide variety of discriminating readers.