Tuesday, September 1, 2009


BLOOD RUNS COLD by Alex Barclay (Harper, 2008)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Talented Irishwoman Alex Barclay's latest novel eschews both NYPD hero Joe Lucchesi and the violent serial killers of her first two books, DARKHOUSE and THE CALLER, instead introducing wise-cracking FBI Special Agent Ren Bryce, and a murder mystery set amongst the snowy slopes of Breckenridge, Colorado.

Bryce is called in to investigate the death of fellow FBI agent Jean Transom, whose bullet-holed body was found on frozen Quandary Peak before being swept away by a tragic avalanche. Bryce is a sparkplug of a character, clashing with both local law enforcement and her FBI colleagues. The reader quickly realises she is a woman with a complicated past - a past that continues to play havoc with her present. As the story progresses, self-sabotaging Bryce struggles to keep her professional and personal lives separate, crosses lines in both, and risks the case and her career.

As a crime novel, BLOOD RUNS COLD is mixed. Barclay succeeds more than fails in packing the novel with witty dialogue, but falls short elsewhere. Bryce is a somewhat intriguing protagonist, but most other characters veer closer to caricature than fully-rounded personalities. In particular many of the male law enforcement characters are cardboard-thin or unrealistic. Often both.

In addition, quite often the plot meanders, as Barclay seems to struggle with the pacing of BLOOD RUNS COLD, and readers may find themselves losing interest at times, or rolling their eyes when the storyline fails to flow. Barclay also seems to hurriedly introduce events and characters near the end to spur a conclusion, and then continues beyond the case in a failed attempt to make the storyline larger than it needed to be.

Barclay does evoke a nice sense of setting amongst Colorado's ski-bunny towns, but much of the action feels forced. A disappointing follow-up to her earlier bestsellers, this novel reads like it was rushed to print, a rewrite or more too early. But Ren Bryce is a protagonist with potential, and it will be interesting to see if Barclay brings her back in a book that does the character more justice.

This book represents Colorado for my USA Fiction Challenge

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