Blackberry Winter – Sarah Jio – 8/10

“Your sentimentality about weather is adorable, but don’t get too excited. I’m still wondering how I’m going to write six thousand words on snowmen.”

In 1933, Vera Ray finished her night shift at the Olympic Hotel and stepped out into an unexpected May snowstorm. Arriving home, she found her three-year-old son Daniel missing – and his teddy bear lying in the snow. Nearly eighty years later, another May blizzard sets reporter and newly bereaved mother Claire an assignment. Can she find out what happened to Daniel all those years before?

There’s a small taste of mystery here, with a break-in and an inconclusive coroner’s verdict, but mostly this is an investigation in the context of a marriage in trouble, interspersed with moments from the past to keep the reader interested if not better informed than our sleuthing protagonist. High society is under the microscope, as is Depression-era poverty and life as a single mother in the 30’s.

Vera is a lovely character – determined, loving, resolute; and broken by the disappearance of her son. Claire is charmingly fallible and ill-at-ease in her husband’s social circle. Top marks go to the best friends – Caroline and Abby are both no-nonsense, fun-loving and capable of spurring both the more demure heroines into a bit of action when necessary.

The novel is very firmly set in Seattle – I’ve never been, but I felt well grounded there. And now I know that Pike Place is a market and not just a Starbucks brand! There was some beautiful writing about Puget Sound and Bainbridge Island, and I’d be keen to see some of the places in the book if I ever make it to Seattle.

In its structure, this really reminded me of Russian Winter which I read earlier this year and very much enjoyed – the young woman digging secrets out of the past, intertwined with the young woman several decades ago who suffered a change of fortune. If you enjoyed that, read this, and vice versa.

A few tiny criticisms:

– I felt the men were generally undercooked. Ethan has a couple of odd-but-convenient-for-the-plot changes of heart, Dominic was a bit too nice, Sven was quite an interesting character but not developed as much as he might have been.

– I was a bit fed up with Claire by the end; she had become quite selfish and self-indulgent (admittedly, she’d had a rough year).

– The unexpected ending (which was delightful) then dragged a bit, or became too sentimental as they go to the old apartment – I wanted something with a bit more snap to it.

Having said all of that, it is a beautiful book with a solid but not gruesome mystery, and a complicated protagonist. Definitely worth checking out.

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5 thoughts on “Blackberry Winter – Sarah Jio – 8/10

  1. […] Blackberry Winter – Sarah Jio – 8/10 […]

  2. […] memories of childhood: the best part so far. Very Dead End Gene Pool with overtones of Blackberry Winter, but more positive. Interesting with being slow. […]

  3. […] love these back-and-forth through history books (e.g. Russian Winter, Blackberry Winter, The Sandalwood Tree). It feels like two stories for the price of one; although, in this case, the […]

  4. […] memories of childhood were the best part for me; Very Dead End Gene Pool with overtones of Blackberry Winter, but more positive. She tells this section very slowly, which strings out the reading pleasure and […]

  5. […] like these historical investigative novels. I loved Russian Winter and Blackberry Winter, and I quite enjoyed Before I Met You, but I gave this 50 pages and it hadn’t got going yet. […]

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