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

Last WinterThe first from my prize from Dead Good Books and this one immediately drew me with its beautiful front cover – the snow and the ice is almost a theme that runs throughout the book and so the echoes of frost on the book work really well to set the scene.  This is a debut novel and I agree with the comments that it’s a really strong first outing.  Makes me jealous in fact as I’d love to write this well.

It tells the story of Dani Lancing and the terrible thing that happens to her.  I’ll admit a slight annoyance at her name – the character bizarrely never seems to fit her name and it did grate a bit throughout – I had to remind myself frequently when it talked about Dani that she was the girl – it sounds weird but the name just didn’t work.

The narrative structure itself is quite complicated – there are effectively four main characters, Dani, her dad, Jim, her mum, Patty and her best friend (wannabe more), Tom.  The story is told from each of their perspectives but in addition to the jumping between characters, you’re also jumping around between the eighties and 2010 which almost gives you a bit of travel sickness.  The chapters are helpfully time-labelled but often the narrative time-hops inside the chapter too.  So at times you’re having to stop and think ‘Which character am I? What time am I?  What the heck is happening here?’  It can be a little too confusing sometimes – but overall it works pretty well.  It gives the whole novel this feeling of nostalgia and really pulls home the idea that this family was ripped apart and these are the ripples that go through their whole history – it’s not just after the bad thing that things change, but the bad thing runs back and affects everything that they ever did together.

I read another review somewhere that said there are no likeable characters here.  And in a way I agree.  There are certainly no perfect characters here.  They’re all flawed, some more than others.  But to be flawed is to be human and maybe that’s what takes this away from your run of the mill, same old same old murder mystery.  The police representative, friend Tom Bevan, reminded me quite a lot of a male Lacey Flint (from S.J. Bolton’s excellent series) – he’s got his dark secrets in the past.  I had a sneaky suspicion about these most of the way through and I wasn’t 100% wrong but there was still enough surprise there for it to be a pleasing ending for a mystery-lover.

Overall, it was a really… not enjoyable necessarily as some of this is pretty dark… but definitely engaging and definitely page-turning read.  It’s very clever the way it unfolds and it’s never totally predictable.  Maybe a little woolly in places and sometimes the complexity makes it difficult to understand, but I’d recommend it nevertheless.

4star

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