The Last Winter of Dani Lancing by P.D. Viner

lancingThe Last Winter of Dani Lancing involves three individuals dealing with loss: Jim and Patty are the parents, now separated, of the titular Dani, who disappeared during her first year of college and later turned up dead; Tom was her high school sweetheart. Each has dealt differently with Dani’s death: Jim withdraws into himself, immersed in memory, and lives with her ghost for a full time companion. Patty, formerly an investigative journalist, is obsessed with the case in all its gruesome details, and still seeks revenge on the unknown killer(s). Tom became a police detective hoping to solve crimes like the one that took Dani. When the book opens, over 20 years have passed, and events have broken open the coping mechanisms of all three living characters. They are brought back into contact, and the case comes back to life.

As a thriller, Dani Lancing hums and thrums for a good 70% of the book, with questions buzzing about who really felt and did what while Dani was alive. Told in flashbacks, memories, and jumps in time, the reader learns about her life and final months in bits and pieces and out of chronological order. Dani’s relationships with Jim, Patty, and Tom are likewise doled out in false starts, and ambiguities abound. This is a strong structure.

And then at about page 270, things fall apart. There arises a strong resemblance to Go Ask Alice. Unlikely coincidences and uncharacteristic corruptions appear; repeated confessions to the same crime shift blame so many times and so quickly that the reader’s head spins. Little old ladies overpower strong young men, and criminal kingpins do cops favors out of the goodness of their hearts. The implausible is paramount, and this in a world I had bought into. Before that point, I believed in Jim, Patty, and Tom; I believed in Dani; they felt real. But the absurd and the far-fetched abruptly become the standard, and I reeled in disgust.

I’m assuming Viner wanted to give us a *big reveal* there at the end, a big surprise; but I felt that he upended the world he’d built and drawn me into. I think he confused surprise with disjointedness. You can disturb and terrify your reader, and demolish everything she thought she knew, without resetting the rules of the world of your own creation; just look at Koren Zailckas. In other words, Viner had already established this as a world of realism, with fully developed characters, and to then reestablish it as fantasy did not work for me

This was a terribly disappointing experience for me, and I’m sorry I wasted my reading time on it. Such a promising beginning and middle, too; such a building of suspense, that I had to finish it out. Turns out that the finish wasn’t worthy of the first 250+ pages, though. On to the next one.

Rating: 3 fixed stares.

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