A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry

A Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. HenryA Cold and Lonely Place by Sara J. Henry
Narrator: Abby Craden
Series: Troy Chance #2
Published by Dreamscape Media on 2/5/13
Genres: Mystery
Format: Audiobook

Story: B
Narration: B

Quick Review:

An enjoyable listen, this one is a slow scraping away of layer after layer of one man’s life in search of the reason he died. The location is well-drawn and atmospheric, the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional, and the narration – which I found enjoyable – has aspects that lead me to suggest you seek out samples to see how suitable it is for your listening tastes.

The Plot (via Goodreads):

“Freelance writer Troy Chance is snapping photos of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival ice palace when the ice-cutting machine falls silent. Encased in the ice is the shadowy outline of a body–a man she knows. One of her roommates falls under suspicion, and the media descends. Troy’s assigned to write an in-depth feature on the dead man, who, it turns out, was the privileged son of a wealthy Connecticut family who had been playing at a blue collar life in this Adirondack village. And the deeper Troy digs into his life and mysterious death, the murkier things become. After the victim’s sister comes to town and a string of disturbing incidents unfold, it’s clear someone doesn’t want the investigation to continue. Troy doesn’t know who to trust, and what she ultimately finds out threatens to shatter the serenity of these mountain towns. She must decide which family secrets should be exposed, what truths should remain hidden, and how far her own loyalty can reach.

A Cold and Lonely Place, the sequel to Learning to Swim, follows Troy on a powerful emotional journey as she discovers the damage left by long-hidden secrets, and catches a glimpse of what might have been.”

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed Sara J. Henry’s 2011 release Learning to Swim and had a pretty high level of anticipation for the second book starring Troy Chance. If you’re thinking of jumping in with the second book though, it works very well as a stand-alone read. The sense of place in both books is exceptionally well-drawn and the character of Troy is easy to connect to while still retaining the personality flaws that make her realistic. With A Cold and Lonely Place, the speed of the action slows down a bit but the story has more interpersonal depth and that suited me nicely.

This isn’t a mystery where there are clues dropped and the reader should feel triumphant for arriving at the solution before the end of the book. Rather, it’s a slow reveal – layer by layer – of the life of the dead man and the lives that intertwined with his. Although the majority of the book is focused on Troy’s efforts to understand who Tobin Winslow was and what events in his life led him cross-country to his death in the town of Saranac Lake, there’s also a nice narrative tension drawn between Troy’s first person musings on her resistance to personal connections and her actions – often protective and always empathetic – when it comes to those she’s close to. The plot was effective at providing the framework for that part of the story to run like a low-voltage current throughout.

I found this story to be character-driven but that shouldn’t be taken to imply the pacing was slow (granted, I do have a distinct preference for character-driven novels, even when the pacing is slow.) The book unfolded smoothly with constant forward motion but any chills passed on to the reader were more due to the author’s skill in constructing the quiet winter setting than the presence of dramatic action sequences.

The basic premise for Troy investigating Tobin’s death is that a) he was the boyfriend of one of her roommates and b) the newspaper she often writes for allowed a shoddy and biased article to be published and is trying to make amends by asking Troy to write an in-depth exploration of the dead man and his life. This initially struck me as slightly contrived but as the story progresses and Troy comes into contact with Tobin’s sister, Jessica “Win” Winslow, the way in which the details of the story spin out made me forget about that. The arc of Jessamyn’s (Tobin’s girlfriend and Troy’s boarder) story – although it wrapped up a bit more neatly than I would have liked – was well integrated with ongoing events and I was struck by the fact that in both Learning to Swim and A Cold and Lonely Place, Troy’s initial involvement in the mystery is sparked by her (almost maternal?) protective instincts.

I enjoyed how Troy’s preconceptions about who Tobin was and, to a certain extent who Jessamyn is, slowly shifted with every new interview she did and each new bit of information she gleaned. She herself reflects on the assumptions she initially made and how she was proved wrong. Tobin’s history turns out to be far more complex than expected and it’s the mystery in his past that holds the key to the momentum of the story more than the current one.

This was an audiobook that took a solid story-line about a suspicious death and spun it out into a broader examination of not so much whodunit as how did events reach that point. The small town feel of Saranac Lake and a sympathetic protagonist who feels more disconnected in her relationships than she actually is grounds the reader in the story and the supporting characters are interesting in and of themselves. Overall, this was an enjoyable listen.

The Narration:

The second book in this series comes with a change of narrator and for the most part, that worked well for me. With the first book, I wasn’t sure Suzanne Toren brought an age-appropriate voice to the character of Troy. With this one we have a younger sounding narrator but again there’s a slightly rougher quality to the voice (Was that intentional, Dreamscape? To ease the transition to a different narrator?)

I’m of two minds on Abby Craden’s narration and it took me a while to pin down exactly why. Just in terms of the quality of her voice, I found her performance appealing. She has throaty voice with a scratch in the lower register that I find very pleasing and her narrative delivery was relatively soft and intimate. That worked extremely well for nailing the performance marker of The here and now and as the story unraveled I felt like I was right there seeing events through Troy’s eyes with a sense of immediacy.

In terms of delivery choices and how I perceived them – it took me half the audiobook to be able to relax into the narration and immerse myself in the story because Ms. Craden has a very specific rhythm to her narrative voice that I had to accustom myself to. She regularly ended a sentence (or, just as often, made a comma or em dash sound like the end of a sentence) by raising the penultimate syllable and dropping the last one. The pause and sense of closure this generated wasn’t egregious but it was noticeable. It didn’t come across as used in aid of navigating the subtext of a phrase/sentence and as the narration went on it created a disruption within individual sentences as well as generating a rhythmic nature to the narrative that didn’t sound natural to my ear. That persistent two syllable pitch rise/fall was the only barrier I had to total immersion in the story.

The range of character voices were unique although anytime a character was angry they expressed it with the exact same clipped “spitting nails” delivery. Each bit of dialogue sounded as if it was from the specific point of view of the character speaking and the back and forth within conversations was reactive and realistic. A lot of the chapters (and a few of the larger scenes within a chapter) ended with a wrap-up statement (and I don’t even know if there’s a term for that but I’m going to label it “wrap-up”) similar to those foreshadowing lines some authors use at the end of a section such as “I left the gun in my purse. That turned out to be a mistake.” (except Ms. Henry eschews the use of heavy-handed foreshadowing lines) and I found the narrator’s delivery of those lines oddly effective at giving me a gut-punch sensation and setting my sense of anticipation for the next chapter.

My split opinion of the narration is basically this: I liked the narration and particularly like the timbre of Ms. Craden’s voice. I’ll pick up another audiobook narrated by her without hesitation although I won’t expect to be able to immediately lose myself in the story. I do suggest you look for an audio sample first, to see if her performance melds with your personal tastes.


Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry

Learning to Swim by Sara J. HenryLearning to Swim by Sara J. Henry
Narrator: Suzanne Toren
Series: Troy Chance #1
Published by Audible, Inc. on 10/7/11
Genres: Mystery

Book: B+
Narration: B

This was an unexpectedly compelling audiobook. It was an interesting blend of mystery and suspense with some romantic elements blended in. I sometimes think I should start measuring/rating audiobooks by how long it takes me to listen to it or by how often I stop/start one and on that scale, this one would earn high marks. I put in several marathon listening sessions with Learning to Swim because I was swept up in the story. From the first chapter, this book pulled me in and it wasn’t until near the end that I came up for air.

Troy Chance lives an uncomplicated life in Lake Placid, New York. She works as a freelance journalist and lives in a run-down house where she rents rooms to a motley group of young men, most of who, like Troy, were drawn to the area by the availability of year-round outdoor activities or to train for various winter sports. While on the ferry to visit her boyfriend in Vermont, Troy happens to see a young boy fall from the opposite ferry. She instinctively dives in to the frigid waters of Lake Champlain after him. After the rescue and a cold swim to shore, Troy is beyond surprised to find no one at the ferry dock looking for a missing six year-old boy.

Troy makes some interesting choices as the story starts to unfold and while there was some background information slapped into the story to set the basis for those decisions, I think most readers will at least quirk an eyebrow in disbelief at her reasoning. For me, that sense of dissatisfaction with why Troy acted as she did was quickly washed away by the more pressing questions the story presented. Who was this little boy, Paul, who had been so carelessly tossed away? Why was no one looking for him? Why does he speak only French? As Troy begins to investigate Paul’s almost-drowning and track down his parents, she is drawn into their lives and it soon becomes clear that not only is Paul still in danger but Troy is as well.

I had some issues with Troy’s decision-making, there were a few instances of coincidental events that seemed contrived, and the ending was drawn out and didn’t provide me with a completely unexpected revelation of the bad guy as well as being comprised of an unlikely sequence of events. In addition, there were chunks of dialogue in French and the writer’s method of direct translation afterwards seemed clunky (but that may be because I recently finished a book where the foreign language sections were not translated line-by-line but by context and the response dialogue). I am compelled, though, to reiterate that despite these issues I was completely drawn in to this audiobook and found it hard if not impossible to put down. What works especially well with this book is the pacing. The core plot is a solid and intriguing story and Troy was constructed as a very sympathetic character. I found myself emotionally invested in Troy and Paul and the outcome of their story.

The narration by Suzanne Toren was good but her cadence and intonation for the narrative and the character of Troy didn’t come across to me as the speech/voice of an active, contemporary, young woman. I did settle into it eventually. Ms. Toren gave Paul an age-appropriate voice that I heard as that of a young boy. Although I have no experience with French accents, they sounded natural and I was particularly impressed with the variance in accent between French as spoken by Québécois characters vs. Troy’s rusty college French vs. a native speaker from France as well as the adept delivery of French accented English. There was a significant (to me) production issue with the files I downloaded from Audible:- there were what sounded like clumsy joins/splices where the words would stutter and part of a word would be cut out. I counted nine instances in the first file and then quit tracking them. From my subjective viewpoint, not my ideal narration but technically good and excellent in terms of accent work.