The Bottom Line: A spectacularly written western crime thriller from a master wordsmith.
Can a world-weary archaeologist escape his violent past and find happiness at last?
On hiatus from his latest dig, Harry Thursday is on a road trip to Yellowstone with his friend, Connor. The two men stumble upon the rustic-looking Araphaho Hotel, but soon learn that the self-proclaimed “Friendliest Place West of the Mississippi River” is anything but. The hotel is a house of prostitution, and its proprietor a frightening sociopath.
After a night of debauchery, Harry and Connor decide to emancipate a young prostitute named CJ. That doesn’t bode well with Skinny, a gold-toothed lowlife pimp who riddles their car with buckshot as they escape. The murderous Skinny isn’t one to simply let things go. Harry, Connor and CJ are thrust into a dangerous game of wilderness survival, and that’s where Harry’s survival skills shine. As a young man, an archeological expedition put him among a band of cannibals called the Yeshret. There he was taught how to hunt in the wilderness and “eat nasty things.”
Bob Walton’s cinematic prose sets Fatal Snow apart from other western adventures. Set in rural 1970s Wyoming, reading Fatal Snow is a singularly sensory experience. The sound of wild bison chewing grass on the plain, the crunch of ice under their boots, and the smell of the camp as sparks fly up into the heavens are remarkably vivid.
Readers should brace themselves for lots of backstory. While the primary storyline set in Wyoming is highly entertaining, the story of the twice-married Harry’s past relationship with Professor Benicia, who goes by the name of Dago, is told in parallel. Early on, these alternating chapters seem to thwart the momentum of Harry, Connor and CJ’s plight. Readers will be rewarded by pushing on, however. The two storylines eventually collide, and Dago’s importance to the main story is satisfyingly revealed.