Title: The Last Winter of Dani Lancing
Author: P. D. Viner. This is his first novel.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Readers: Professor Michal, at-home parent Katie, teachers Ninian and Shannon.
Summary: Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The killer was never found, and the case has long gone cold. Her parents, Patty and Jim, were utterly devastated, their marriage destroyed. While Jim fell apart, Patty was consumed by the unsolved case. She abandoned her journalism career and her marriage to spend every waking hour searching and plotting. She keeps contact with Tom, Dani’s childhood sweetheart, who has become a detective intent on solving murders like Dani’s. When he finds a lead that seems ironclad, he brings Patty in on it. After years of dead ends, her obsession is rekindled, and she will do anything for revenge, even become a killer herself-dragging her whole family into the nightmare once again, as lies and secrets are uncovered.
Our Take: A split decision on this tangled mystery. Most of our readers enjoyed it, though some were dissatisfied with the ending. This is a complex story that moves around in time and among characters.
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is not a book for the faint-hearted or for the easily distracted. Told in a non-chronological fashion, it jumps back and forth between several different years and several different perspectives. Viner also liked to throw in false paths and dead-ends to trick the reader, as well as the characters, before the exciting and climatic revelation at the end.
Ultimately, though, I think that this is a story about grief and how each person copes with grief differently. Dani’s parents and her childhood friend Tom are all deeply affected by Dani’s death and all deal with it in very different ways. Viner doesn’t make any judgements but instead lets us empathize with how we would grieve and also hopefully understand with the ways that other grieve.
A warning too– the beginning can be a bit confusing but stick with it and you won’t be disappointed. I read the beginning a bit slowly but then sat for a few hours and finished the entire thing in one sitting.
I love a good mystery/suspense novel. I love being glued to the page, so into it that I take it with me into the bathroom so I can keep reading. Unfortunately, for me, this was not that book. It is the story of Dani Lancing, a college student who was murdered 20 years ago, and her parents, Jim and Patty. Jim and Patty’s relationship fell apart in the wake of Dani’s death, and Patty has become obsessed with finding her daughter’s killer and avenging her murder. The story jumps around in time, back and forth over 30 years, which is very confusing, particularly when you start reading. And because Dani, although dead, is still seen by her father and has conversations with him, it is sometimes hard to know where in the story you are. I also felt like it went on way too long, with more and more preposterous events being revealed, and I found the end unsatisfying. I did, of course, want to know “whodunit”, and there were some aspects of the story that I found compelling. But overall, it was just okay. Much better choices out there, for sure.
Read instead: Defending Jacob by William Landay
The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a strong debut novel. Viner’s characters are fully developed and intriguing mixes of the good and bad that is in all of us. This story is told from three different viewpoints, Dani’s mother, father and friend Tom, and travels back and forth through time to unwind her story. On the face of it, a promising young girl abducted and murdered while away at university, it seems fairly straightforward, but as the reader gets into the story so much more is revealed.
This is clever and compelling read, a well-crafted, psychological thriller with many twists, some quite surprising. The chapters from the viewpoint of Dani’s father have a slightly eerie quality, as if disconnected from reality, heightened by his talking to and seeing his dead daughter.
I absolutely loved this book for the way Viner wove the tale, wrong-footing me at every turn, and even the most savvy of crime/thriller readers will be surprised by what the story reveals. The only downside for me was the epilogue, which I felt was unnecessary for the novel, but I supposed has been used as a device to open the door to future novel(s).
Read also: Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson
As someone who enjoys the work of untangling a story, I found the first 3/4 of The Last Winter of Dani Lancing to be a fun, fast-paced read that kept me on my toes. With a non-linear timeline and multiple narrators, it takes a bit of time to figure out the time and voice of each character, but Viner works to make this part of the story’s appeal. As the plot unfolds, questions begin to arise about each of the novel’s characters, creating a dizzying maze of possible solutions to Dani’s death.
Had Viner put together an ending as thrilling as the rest of his novel, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing would easily have earned an “A” rating from me. Unfortunately, the conclusion felt too neatly composed and unrealistic, especially compared to the book as a whole. With the addition of the unnecessary, out of left field epilogue, I closed The Last Winter of Dani Lancing feeling like a wonderful premise was soured by a few missteps in the end.
Read Instead: Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas or The Never List by Koethi Zan
Get it from…