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Published November 28th 2018
When a chance encounter leads to an enduring friendship
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende is the story of three New York residents who are drawn together into an unlikely and intriguing murder mystery.
After a minor car accident with University researcher Richard Bowmaster, Guatemalan illegal immigrant and child carer, Evelyn Ortego, makes the gruesome discovery of a lifeless body in the boot of car she was driving. She is shocked to discover the body is that of physiotherapist Kathryn Brown and the car was owned by underground crime figure and her employer, Frank Leroy. Evelyn cares for Franks' son Frankie who has severe disabilities and was using the car to make an emergency dash to the markets.
On closer inspection, she confirms that Kathryn Brown has been the victim of a single gunshot wound to her forehead and Evelyn suspects that it is Frank Leroy who is the killer,
Alone and fearing reprisal from her violent employer and the potential risk that the police will consider her as the prime murder suspect, Evelyn turns to Richard for help. When Evelyn turns up on his doorstep, the normally reclusive Richard, in turn seeks out his neighbour Lucia Maraz, who speaks Spanish and will be able to converse with the traumatised Evelyn.
The three decide to hatch a plan to drive the car containing the body upstate, abandoning the vehicle and giving Kathryn Brown a proper burial. To complicate the situation, this all happens on the night of one of New York's worst snow storms.
We follow the path of Evelyn, Richard and Lucia on their unfortunate road trip. But more than the complicated circumstance which brought them together, author Allende unpacks the history of the three characters to uncover the turbulence, losses and tragic circumstances which they have all already faced during their lives.
Evelyn witnessed the slaying of her two brothers to members of a violent South American crime gang, Richard lost his two small children, and Lucia has lived not knowing the whereabouts of her brother, feared he had been executed. Their personal frailty binds them in friendship.
The book frequently cuts across time frames and locations, taking the reader between the United States and South America. It sensitively considers the issue of illegal immigration into North America at a time when policy questions of a border wall are under consideration.
About the Author: Isabel Allende Isabel Allende is well qualified to discuss these issues in a fictional context. Having been born in Chile, she left the country with her husband and two children in 1975 and lived in exile in Venezuela for 13 years. Over her vast literary career, she has published extensively and consistently.
This was my first Isabelle Allende book and I bought it on a whim. Having turned the last page, I'm was glad to have I picked it up. Allende neatly blends the present with the past, interpersonal (and sometimes romantic) relationships with social and political commentary and has us possibly questioning our own views on the plight of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.
The end has a twist, of course, (and the romance which develops between Richard and Lucia is a sweet turn) but Allende ties up all loose ends to leave the reader pleasingly satisfied.
If you are looking for some holiday reading this Christmas season, you would do well to add In the Midst of Winter to your list.