Written by Nigel Bird — It’s Christmas time and snow is blanketing the city bringing everything to a halt. Everything, of course, except crime. There is no movement anywhere. The trains and cars have all stopped, drinkers are stranded in bars and the police can’t get in for their shifts. This is British crime fiction, in an unnamed city, but Let It Snow is more like the Love Actually version of a police procedural. It wouldn’t be fair to say there is no central plot but it feels more like a series of vignettes, interrelated tales, some of them more gentle and others more brutal and bloody.
Snow has settled on the city but Mike Marsalis is just a few minutes away and so, inevitably, his boss calls him in. Marsalis is a two-decade veteran detective who finds himself on foot patrol down at the river next to the towering PC Ernie Shavers who is agitating to head home to his wife. They are there to talk a suicidal teenager down from the bridge. The would-be jumper slashes Shavers’ throat, leaving him dying in the snow. Marsalis stands stunned while the blue-fringed adolescent goes on the run.
Oliver Wilson is the next to get the call from the boss to find the new fugitive, a teenage cop killer, in the city. Bird also gives the perspective of the teenager, Henry Holden, as he skulks around and faces his own demons. In amongst this, Marsalis finds time to solve a department store robbery. Then there is DS Sue Nolan who is called to the local zoo where raiders have killed a rhino and hacked off the horn, worth thousands on the black market. She calls in a favour, flirts with her gangster ex, Johnny Yen, and her own morality to get a tip off to catch the gang. We also sit in with another two coppers involved in the chase: Mouse Green, short, violent and out for revenge, and Ore Iwobi, principled and reflective.
This is a book that has British sensibilities but the location is almost entirely generic. We know it’s not London, so where could it be? We get a few street names but the town or city is never named. I’m still not sure if this is a bug or a feature. Arguably, it amplifies the characters, we are free to place them into our own setting, either side of the Atlantic. On the other hand, it’s rare for books not to benefit from a genuine sense of place, that clichéd extra character, but I can see the value in keeping it neutral. We’re given a blank canvas here to imagine the city of our choice.
There are a handful of slight oddities, at least to British readers, in the initial pages. The senior police officer, Superintendent Angela McKenzie, is introduced as ‘Chief McKenzie’ and there is also mention of a ‘Patrol Constable’. Let It Snow is published by the well-established Down & Out Books which has a certain hardboiled pedigree and this may be a ploy to ensure Let It Snow plays well for readers in the States. It could grate for British readers but after a couple of glitches near the start it all runs smoothly and doesn’t hamper enjoyment.
Each of the vignettes is resolved in its own way and they don’t tie together in some implausible denouement. It’s an enjoyable read, quite a short book, and entirely accessible. Nigel Bird has created a full set of ‘everyman’ characters, who have the normal problems of us human beings. Doing the best for your kids, picking up a girl at the German Christmas market, and managing the loneliness of Christmas feature as much as the crimes. Sometimes Bird’s characters are a bit mean and make bad decisions, more often they do the right thing and treat each other with decency. In that way Let It Snow is an enjoyable fireside treat, though it certainly isn’t sanitised, and it’s a warming police procedural for any point in the winter and Christmas in particular.
If you are looking for some more seasonal crime then check out our Christmas crime thrillers for 2019.
Down & Out Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars