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Darkness the Color of Snow


Darkness the Color of Snow

DARKNESS THE COLOR OF SNOW is, at its heart, a cautionary tale. Thomas Cobb focuses with laser-like intensity on Lydell, a very small New England town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, a place where people move from rather than move to. It’s a story of poor decisions early in life that circle back later to haunt and ultimately destroy. Despite some shortcomings near the end, its characters will stay with you.

Ronald Forbert is the focal point of DARKNESS THE COLOR OF SNOW. As the story begins, Ronny, a rookie Lydell patrolman, is on night duty, monitoring a local highway for speeders. He pulls over a car that, as luck would have it, contains his high school friends. Their hostility towards him is palpable, with none being more hostile than Matt Laferiere, the driver, who is obviously intoxicated. Matt is violently uncooperative; when Ronny attempts to place him under arrest, things go wrong very quickly. In the space of a few seconds, Matt is dead, the victim of a hit-and-run driver. Cobb does an excellent job of setting up this scenario, which explodes and detonates throughout the book in ways that are not immediately evident, even as it becomes clear that there are going to be problems from all of this.

"Cobb’s ability to slice into and out of life in a small town, with the dual pulls of staying or going, ultimately makes this a book worth reading."

Ronny is placed on a five-day suspension for not following proper procedure (he failed to call for backup), and a search is undertaken for the hit-and-run driver. The book then follows the next few days of Ronny’s life as it begins to unravel. In the process, we learn of his backstory and how he became the nexus of the events that ultimately unfolded on a cold and dark night on a rural road. Ronny, whose mother deserted the family early on for reasons that are not entirely clear, had become involved with a small gang of rowdy upperclassmen in high school --- the same ones he encountered on the highway, with a new addition --- whose behavior gradually escalates in the wrong direction. Ronny was an uneasily willing participant in the gang’s increasingly destructive hijinks.

An act of vandalism put the group on the radar of longtime police chief Gordy Hawkins, a wise man possessed of common sense coupled with quiet strength. Gordy saw qualities in Ronny that weren’t immediately evident, and in a series of small but deliberate steps took the young man under his wing. His decision to hire Ronny as a patrolman was an unpopular one with parts of the town and particularly with Ronny’s former friends. Now, in the present, Ronny’s falling out with the group leads to a growing suspicion that he may have been complicit in Matt’s death. That emotion is further fueled by his romantic relationship with Matt’s former girlfriend.

Martin Glendenning, the influential town council president, sees the tragedy as an opportunity. He lobbied (for reasons of his own) to shut down the police department and begins a subtle and methodical campaign to pin Matt’s death on Ronny and, by extension, the department. The consequences are shattering.

It is here, alas, that DARKNESS THE COLOR OF SNOW breaks down somewhat. Cobb, through his characters, attempts to nudge the reason for the ultimate outcome of what occurs on anti-government sentiment. Yet he makes it quite obvious that the villain of the piece is the town council president, who indeed is the government, thus demonstrating that elected officials, at least in this case, are not to be trusted. Cobb not only subtly but needlessly interjects his politics into the fray, he also sabotages his own point. It’s an unnecessary distraction that comes close to derailing the carefully constructed story that he spent most of the book creating.

While the ending is ultimately disappointing, the journey to reach it is enthralling, if depressing. One wants to cheer Ronny on throughout the book due to his apparent ability to overcome his background and his choice of bad companions during his youth, even as that choice comes back to haunt him in the end. Cobb’s ability to slice into and out of life in a small town, with the dual pulls of staying or going, ultimately makes this a book worth reading.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 21, 2015

Darkness the Color of Snow
by Thomas Cobb