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Don Bredes is not exactly a household name right now, a situation that is somewhat puzzling to me, and one that I would hope to be temporary. COLD COMFORT is his third novel, so he’s not exactly flooding the market with quantity, choosing instead to raise the tide with quality. And COLD COMFORT does just that.

COLD COMFORT, from its opening paragraph to its last pages, reminds me of THE LAST GOOD KISS by James Crumley. That is not to say that COLD COMFORT is a slavish imitation, or tribute, or pastiche, or whatever, of Crumley’s masterpiece. No, it is none of those. It is similar in the sense that it places Hector Bellevance, its troubled protagonist, in a seldom visited setting — northern Vermont, in this case — to tread quietly but patiently through a forest full of lies to an uneasy conclusion, all the while keeping the reader fascinated.

Bellevance is an ex-cop and ex-husband who moves his shattered life from Boston to Tipton, his northern Vermont hometown, where he ekes out a quiet, small town existence raising vegetables on property he inherited from his mother. He is offered the vacant position of town constable, which he accepts with considerable reluctance, though the title is little more than ceremonial and involves haphazard enforcement of local nuisance laws. All of that changes dramatically when a transplanted Canadian couple living just down the street from him are brutally murdered. Spud, a somewhat simple but personally complicated potato farmer and Bellevance’s half-brother, discovers the bodies under somewhat suspicious circumstances and becomes the primary suspect when it is discovered that he has lied about these circumstances and his involvement with one of the victims.

Bellevance, motivated as much by his sense of duty to his brother as to his gut feeling that Spud, in Bellevance’s words, “just doesn’t have it in him,” begins his own investigation. Bellevance soon finds that he has few friends when he begins exposing the dark side of his small town to sunlight. Everyone, it seems, has secrets, and everyone — from Spud to members of the state police — is lying. Bellevance’s most difficult problem, besides ascertaining who killed the victims, is why.

Bredes hopefully has many more books left to write. This reader, for one, wouldn’t mind at all if he took us back to Tipton for another visit with Hector Bellevance.

— Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub

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