Events take place in the environs of Harmon Falls, a small Minnesota town. It is wintertime, and snow covers the ground and buildings in and around the town. For several years, Clarie's father has organized the Winter Fest for Harmon Falls, which draws tourists and local people to contests such as snowmobile racing and ice carving. The Winter Fest serves as a way for local business people to make money: Although the events of the Winter Fest themselves do not bring in much money, those who attend the festival tend to buy goods at the local stores, including snowmobiles from Clarie's Dad. The success of the Winter Fest is essential to the merchants making a profit on the year, whose success this year is threatened by the deaths of Mrs. Amling and Richard Moline.
Most of the events in A Killing Freeze take place outside, in the cold and snow. Clarie and her father live in a remote area, with only Mrs. Amling's house nearby. A young woman who has had always to be independent, Clarie is often alone. She usually likes her solitude, but with a murderer on the loose, the isolated roads and woods seems ominously treacherous. Her father's store is small and often crowded with locals who are just hanging around, chatting with each other. About her home, Clarie remarks: "Our house was weird looking. I loved it. Dad and I built it entirely with our own hands, starting when I was about ten." The house is a source of pride for Clarie, who has always tried to share the workload with her father. Thus, she helps him with the Winter Fest by keeping track of contestants and keeping events running on time. This often means traveling alone from one event site to another.
The narrative of A Killing Freeze is told in the first person by the main character Clarie. Hall sometimes runs into the problem of having her first person narrators speak in a language that is too sophisticated for them, which slightly diminishes the credibility of the characterization. This is not the case in A Killing Freeze. The diction throughout rings with authenticity; Clarie is an interesting, intelligent, and energetic person whose powers of observation seem entirely appropriate for someone with her characteristics. Her voice is authentic.
It's [the Winter Fest is] the high point of the year for Dad and me, even though it means busting our butts chasing details. For instance, I spent all day Wednesday in Dad's shop, which was headquarters for the Fest. I stuck labels on one hundred eighty trophies. I checked the trophies against the master list and ran down the three missing ones that the trophy company sent to the wrong address. I answered at least three million phone calls and sent people out four times to find Dad when emergencies came up.
A special challenge in A Killing Freeze are the physical descriptions. In mysteries, descriptions hold important clues to the solution; in a narrative with a first-person speaker, it would be easy to slip into a voice that is more authoritative—the author's own voice—and out of the realistic voice of the narrator. In A Killing Freeze, Hall skillfully avoids this problem. The descriptions are vivid, clear, and true to Clarie's characterization. For instance, when driving on an errand for her father, Clarie describes what she sees:
I drove our pickup slowly, absorbing the beauty of the place. I never got tired of it. A narrow blacktop road twisted through the forest, following a stream bed, then climbing again to a meadow. The trees were giant white pines that shaded out the undergrowth and carpeted the ground with decades of shed needles. The trees were mounded with snow now, and the stream was just a flatness under the snow.
One of the features that elevates A Killing Freeze out of the ordinary is its distinguished prose style that is well adapted to the narrator.
Another feature that elevates A Killing Freeze above the ordinary is its mystery. It has significant twists and turns, turns clues upside-down on one another, and builds suspense, with danger first circling around Clarie, then focusing on her, putting her life in dire jeopardy. The techniques Hall uses to do this are not particularly unusual. Clarie is the first to find Mrs. Amling's body, which thrusts her right into the middle of the investigation into the elderly woman's death. At first, suspects are few—one is even killed. Then, as Clarie gathers clues, the number of suspects expands, so that in the second half of the novel, even a close friend could be a crazed, murdering fiend. As the number of suspects increases, the number of potential victims decreases. Hall pulls this off by having Clarie recognize something in an old photograph—something she cannot quite figure out—which is an old standby in mystery fiction; when Clarie tells her father that she saw something in a photograph that she almost recognizes, somebody is listening. When Clarie and her father discover that someone heard Clarie's remarks, the novel focuses on the mortal danger to Clarie, heightening suspense that has been building throughout the narrative. Although the techniques Hall uses are ones often used by mystery writers, she applies them adroitly, and they do not call attention to themselves, thus allowing the narrative to flow smoothly. The solution to the mystery is well disguised, and is likely to come as an "ah ha!" surprise for most readers.
For Further Reference
Commire, Anne, ed. "Hall, Lynn." In Something about the Author. Detroit: Gale Research, 1987: 97-104. Includes extensive autobiographical account of Hall's background and career.
Hall, Lynn. "Lynn Hall." In Fifth Book of Junior Authors & Illustrators. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1983: 145-147. Brief autobiographical article about how Hall became a writer and her interest in animals.