A recent reorganization of my bookshelves reinforced that not only do I mostly read mysteries, but it seems that my favorites are set in cold worlds; books with chilling titles and bleak winterscape cover art fill my shelves to overflowing. The colder, the better.
I like writing about winter weather too. Maybe it’s because I live near Phoenix, and just writing about a snowstorm can calm down some of the wicked summer heat—it really does work. However, even before I lived in the desert, I was attracted to the bleak promise only a good cold title and cover can deliver.
When considering a setting for my newest mystery series, Alaska seemed like a natural choice. Not just Alaska though, but a place in our vast forty-ninth state where few people venture, where the weather is rarely friendly, and the terrain is fierce. I based my fictional town of Benedict upon the real town of Gustavus, a place near Glacier Bay National Park populated with some of the kindest and toughest people I’ve ever met. They live the sorts of lives I love to read about but am probably too much of a wimp to actually live.
The cover artist for the first two books of my Alaska Wild series, Jonathan Bush at Minotaur, has created some perfect atmospheric covers, though I’m not prejudiced or anything. Thin Ice and Cold Wind are both great “cold” covers, and I’m continually thrilled and chilled just by looking at them.
There are many great cold reads. I was surprised by how difficult it was to come up with a list of favorites, but here are my top ten favorite chilly covers and books. Or just covers, or just books. You get the idea.
Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie
This is a new collection that I recently happened upon. All wintry tales. Though the cover is somewhat cartoonish, even the font makes me think cold, trapped, and bleak. It’s a great way to spend some time with Hercule or Miss Marple.
Cold Mountain by Charles Fraser
Such a simple cover, yet still does the job, and becomes even more evocative after reading the descriptive story inside. A wounded confederate soldier runs from the Civil War and tries to get back home, back to his love, and Cold Mountain. It’s quite a journey.
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
If I could pick one word that makes me think “cold,” it would be “Russia.” Well, maybe “Siberia,” but Russia works too. WINTER GARDEN is a sweeping tale of a harrowing journey. Told in alternate time periods, one taking place in war-torn Leningrad, this cover makes me wish for my very own ushanka-hat.
The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck
Okay, so maybe not a cold title, but look at that cover. If that doesn’t send a chill up your spine, the dead body with a frozen smile inside the book will. Brrrrr.
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Ms. Spencer-Fleming’s first book in her Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne series. Set in wintertime upstate New York, this is a great start to an atmospheric series. This one roped me right in and I’ve been a fan ever since. It’s a great series.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
A Pulitzer Prize finalist, the story takes place in Alaska in 1920. Making use of a fairytale as well as realism, you might think you know what’s going to happen, but the story is full of surprises. A couple flees to Alaska after losing their child—the heartbreak merges with the raw landscape and a girl who seems to come from the snow, making this one hard to put down, or ever forget.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
A woman disappears the night of the first snowfall, her pink scarf is found on a snowman that mysteriously appeared in her yard. Inspector Harry Hole uncovers a stormy, gruesome pattern as the investigation proceeds. I really like the Harry Hole thrillers. This cover so simple, but perfectly chilling.
Winterkill by C.J. Box
The third book in Box’s Joe Pickett series, the book’s first line is, “A storm was coming to the Bighorn Mountains.” You just know Pickett’s going to have some wild adventures, and that the weather is going to play a part. Another favorite series, with a number of great cold covers.
Icebound by Dean Koontz
There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of Dean Koontz’s books. This book came out during that time. “A secret Arctic experiment becomes a frozen nightmare . . .” Yes, it does—a big, terrifying icy nightmare. This is early Koontz, and it’s a survival, edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
This one ticks all the boxes. Set in Vermont, the weather, obviously, plays a big part in this creepy novel. There is an undeniable sense of starkness the whole way through. Here’s a quote: “The people who are stuck between here and there, waiting. It reminds me of winter, how everything is pale and cold and full of nothing, and all you can do is wait for spring.” Yeah, bet you’re reaching for a sweater now.
Mysteries certainly come in all kinds of weather, but If you’re looking for a good chill, you can find some great books that will freeze your fingertips, figuratively at least. They even make good beach reads.
Happy holidays! No matter your reading preferences, I hope you and your loved ones stay warm and safe.