COLD WINTER NIGHTS CAN BE MURDER
By Anne White
Readers Journal, Crime for the Holidays issue, Spring 2009
“Lake George isn’t just for summer anymore,” declares one of the teenage characters in Cold Winter Nights, the latest book in my Lake George Mystery Series.
I couldn’t agree more.
In the first four books in the series, my characters enjoy many of the warm weather sports and activities available to those who visit or live at the beautiful upstate New York lake. They swim, dive, run, bike and hike. They enjoy watching the changing panorama of the lake from docks, porches and windows, taking trips on the large white sightseeing boats and making their own forays onto the lake using sails, oars or paddles. They watch people soaring above the lake in a parasail or a hot air balloon and marvel at the area’s beauty from the nearby cliffs. Summer is a beautiful time at Lake George.
To many, the fall months are even more spectacular. The foliage on the hills which surround the 32-mile long lake create a breathtaking panorama of gold, rust and scarlet, softened here and there by the soothing presence of the evergreens.
But winter at Lake George can be beautiful too. Setting this book in a different season has allowed me to feature sports and activities I couldn’t include before.
One of my favorites is an annual Lake George Village event – the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. Each year, hundreds of men, women and teenagers—in recent years as many as 900 of them—exchange their parkas for bathing suits and creep, dash or dive into the freezing cold water.
The lake hasn’t frozen by early January, but the temperature often hovers around zero degrees and a necklace of ice along the shore testifies to the fact it won’t be long before a heavy coating of ice covers the entire surface.
In Cold Winter Nights, my protagonist Loren Graham, mayor of fictional Emerald Point, a few miles north of the plunge site, is shocked to learn her seventeen-year-old-friend Josie Donohue is planning to take part in the plunge. Loren, who questions the sanity of the plungers, gives Josie a ride to the Village and is astonished to see the large crowds gathering to participate.
Josie, looking fit and attractive in her itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny yellow bikini, explains her decision, “If you’re going to live in this part of the country, Lor, you’ve got to take advantage of what it has to offer.”
With that, Loren is even more shocked, as she realizes how many of her young friend’s comments are starting to make sense. How has this happened?
Josie also takes part in one of the area’s more traditional winter sports—downhill skiing. She foregoes the Post-Plunge Party and asks Loren to drive her to meet friends at Gore Mountain, one of upstate New York’s premier ski areas. Loren, who isn’t a native of the area, hasn’t learned to ski, but she enjoys the beauty of the mountain and the lively atmosphere. When she stops in the lounge after Josie has headed for the lifts, she sees Ed Kennison, an Emerald Point doctor escorting a young woman who is not his wife— two people who will play an important role in her efforts to clear an old family friend who’s suspected of a murder.
This winter, Emerald Point is adding a new sports event—the town’s first Winter Carnival on the ice. It’s scheduled for February after the ice on the lake has reached maximum thickness. Since the town has an agreement with Lake George Village not to duplicate the activities in their Winter Carnival, Josie and other high school students are invited to join the committee and suggest new activities young people will like.
Josie and her friends bring enthusiasm to the task and come up with ideas like the Rub a Dub Dub Tub, (a ride around the ice in an inner tube for small children), an ice hockey match and skating demonstrations for older youngsters. The special evening event, they decide, should be a Mardi Gras-type Carnivale on the ice for adults and teenagers, complete with masks and costumes
Dr. Kennison’s wife, Jane, chairing the committee with her friend Alice Simmons, invites the group to hold the carnival on the ice in front of the Kennison’s elegant lakeside home. Although Loren sees the house as beautiful, Jane confides she plans to sell it to someone who will move it. Her goal—replace it with one of the new oversized houses, dubbed McMansions, which have begun to appear at the lake.
Despite reports of a violent nor’easter moving up the coast, the carnival’s afternoon activities go well. For the evening skate, the committee has decorated in Mardi Gras colors—green, gold and purple—and roped off a skating area away from the open water and soft ice caused by ice eaters near the docks. They’ve hired a teenage band and urged everyone to come to the skate masked and in costume.
But as readers expect, things go wrong, deadly wrong. The storm hits with even more force than predicted; the power fails; the lights along the shore go out; the ropes which had marked off the skating area are removed; and a mysterious stranger in a frightening Mardi Gras mask forces Loren closer and closer to the open water created by the ice eaters.
Winter at Lake George can be beautiful, but unpredictable, especially when someone crosses paths with a killer.
Anne White (www.annewhitemysteries.com) is the author of the Lake George Mystery Series. The fifth book in the series, Cold Winter Nights (Hilliard and Harris) is now available from Amazon and your favorite book source. Earlier books include An Affinity For Murder (Oak Tree Publishing) and Beneath The Surface, Best Laid Plans and Secrets Dark and Deep (Hilliard and Harris).