Sometimes it’s hard to know what drew me to a novel first or why I chose it, and sometimes that isn’t important anyway. I found the book cover design for Mercy Snow by bestselling author Tiffany Baker interesting but, in this case, it was the publisher’s description that sold me. I grew up in a small mountain town dominated by textile and furniture mills, so I know the kind of role mill owners can play in a small town. Luckily, in my town the mill owners wanted the town to thrive and worked to improve the overall quality of life there. Not all small towns are that lucky. In this novel, Titan Falls, New Hampshire is one of those towns. You know the old saying, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If you’re drawn to offbeat characters who show fierce loyalty in the face of adversity, or just stories about the dynamics in a small town, this will make a great winter read.
“The instant of disaster, it is often said, is an elongated one, as if in witnessing its own demise the human mind is wont to wind the moment out long and then longer still.”
On the freezing night before Thanksgiving in the mid-1990’s, the St. Bart’s activity bus full of students was returning on the icy Devil’s Slide Road back to Titan Falls, New Hampshire from a movie outing in the neighboring town of Berlin when tragedy struck. A vchicle going much too fast for the icy conditions raced to pass the lumbering bus, pushing it too close to the edge of the drop-off along a bad tilted S-curve. When the bus tires lost traction, it went tumbling over the side of the hill down into the ravine below.
Although many were injured, including the paper mill owner’s son, Nate McAllister, most survived. Nate’s girlfriend, Susie, was not so lucky. Neither was the elderly bus driver, Fergus, who lay in a coma in the hospital. He was the only person who could tell police what really happened that night and the doctors didn’t believe he’d ever regain consciousness much less talk again. So Sheriff Abel Goode and his police staff were left to piece together any clues they could find. One thing they found was an old pickup truck smashed into a tree not far from the accident site. It was only logical that they would decide Zeke Snow, the absent driver of that pickup, ran the bus off the road and then fled on foot when his truck crashed.
It didn’t help, of course, that Zeke was a member of the much despised no-good Snow family, a family of drifting outliers who everyone in town believed had brought nothing but trouble to their town for generations. This was the third generation of Snows to move back onto their ramshackle homestead on the outskirts of town, and the townspeople had no reason to believe this latest group was any more upstanding than the last two generations. In fact, most would be only too happy to see the whole lot of them run out of town, so there was no shortage of volunteers happy to help find Zeke, who had a prison record. The only question was whether he’d live to stand trial or be shot on sight.
And to make things even more interesting that night, while looking for clues, the police found the remains of Gert Snow who disappeared from town in the 1970’s. Everyone thought she’d run off to who knows where and were glad to see the last of her, especially since a lot of unsettling rumors had been circulating before she disappeared. How ironic that her remains should be uncovered in an accident caused by the next generation of Snows.
“Gert’s remains would no doubt make Abel’s investigation into the crash much harder, since Snows had a reputation for being elusive on the best of days and downright shady on the rest of them.”
“The newest Snows had arrived on the outskirts of Titan Falls at the end of October. Right away there was a whiskey-fueled debate in town about them.
‘Back to nature misfits,’ Archie Lincoln scoffed at the steel-topped bar of Lucky’s Tavern, his belly sucking out and his toes turned even further, but Frank Billings disagreed. ‘They’re backwoods, not back-to-nature, Arch. There’s a difference, you know.’
‘Not in Titan Falls,’ Archie retorted, and, like always, he had a point.”
So who were these infamous Snows? The current generation who had arrived in Titan Falls consisted of the deceased Pruitt Snow’s children. Zeke and Mercy, both teens, and their younger sister, Hannah, had come to Titan Falls to find their father after their mother died, only to find him gone too. Mercy, like the generations of women before her, is a natural healer. Hannah is smart as a whip even if she’s never been to school. As for Zeke’s prison term, he earned that while trying to save Mercy from some men in the woods – and he’d willingly do it again if it meant saving her.
These three have been through hell and they had hoped coming to Titan Falls would mean a new start, the beginning of a much better life for them than the hardscrabble hand-to-mouth existence they’ve had recently. They’re looking for a happily-ever-after fairy tale ending because they are literally down to their last dime. Although they know how to survive on what they find in the forest, they also know that kind of survival means borderline starvation if things don’t go perfectly and things rarely have gone anything like perfectly for them. All they want from the town is to be accepted and welcomed, something they are learning Titan Falls has no intention of doing.
“The Snow place was cursed – everyone in Titan Falls knew that much, even June [McAllister – the mill owner’s wife]. The problem, June suspected, wasn’t the land but the river. No one in his or her right mind would want to camp downstream from the mill and its attending swirl of not-entirely-legal effluvia. Pulp slurry and broken logs, eddies of acid – all of it floated away from the chutes of Titan Falls Mill and collected here in the elbow under Devil’s Slide Road. If the town couldn’t escape the stink of what went on all up and down two states’ worth of the Androscoggin, June couldn’t imagine what life right next to it in the ravine must be like. No wonder disease and ruin seemed to stalk the Snows.”
What will become of the Snow siblings without any support from anyone? Was Zeke the person responsible for running the bus off the road? If not, why did he run away? Could someone else be using him as an easy scapegoat to protect themselves? Could the Snow siblings being in Titan Falls start to change the town in some way or can anyone do that when such entrenched superstitions are in place?
Small towns; we all love them in theory and yet they can sometimes be harsh places for those who are different. There are all of those rippling undercurrents in small towns, just looking for a way to break the surface, and that’s exactly what happens in Mercy Snow. We don’t usually review a novel so long after its original publication date but I had to share this one with you. It’s masterfully written with very complex characters who will make you think in ways you may never have before. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that circumstances, people, and relationships are rarely as simple as they look on the surface. Mercy Snow takes a leap off the high diving board deep under the surface of Titan Falls and lays it bare eventually, after taking the reader on one hell of a roller coaster ride. At the end, I came up for air and just said, “Wow!” And then I thought about it for days afterward because I couldn’t shake it loose.
Can’t wait to read it?
Mercy Snow was originally published in hardcover form in January 2014; however, it’s being published in paperback form on January 27, 2015. It’s now available in all kinds of formats and all kinds of price points from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Order it now to read!
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