by Sarah Jio
published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group
Engaging from the get-go, Sarah Jio’s Blackberry Winter is a delightful mystery, like an elegant, loose-weave scarf. Wrap up in its rich, warm fibers of plot and character and find yourself lost in its love story, walking the snow-strewn streets of Depression Era Seattle, and racing for the nearest modern-day Starbucks or Pike’s Place Market café to learn what will become of a missing boy, a broken marriage, and a family secret, hidden for decades by money and power.
Vera Ray is a 1933 poor working woman with a fiery will and a single wish—to take care of her three-year-old son, born of a Cinderella love that ended less than happily ever after. The week following her son’s disappearance, Vera’s only lead is still her boy’s discarded teddy bear, found in the snow outside their old apartment. Desperate, out of work, near starvation, Vera will do whatever it takes to find him, even if it costs her everything.
Almost a century later, in present day Seattle, reporter Claire Aldridge has a week to cover a rare “Blackberry Winter,” a later-season winter storm reminiscent of the one that blew through in 1933. Not much of a story, she thinks, but she hasn’t been on her game since her devastating loss a year ago, and now her marriage is falling apart. Digging for an angle, Claire uncovers the mystery of Vera Ray’s missing child—and discovers the truth of that story is closer to home than she could have imagined. It might be just what the doctor ordered to resuscitate her career, her marriage, and her spirit.
The book's twin narratives are cleverly, if somewhat predictably, intertwined Graceful prose is balanced against enjoyable dialogue. Ms. Jio’s Seattle is populated by disarming and sympathetic characters, whose chief failing, perhaps, lies in their having been cast in too perfect a shade of black or white—too good or too bad—to be perfectly believable.
But Ms. Jio’s cozy mystery doesn’t suffer too much from plot contrivance or coincidence, and on the whole, the story’s affect is quite pleasing. A quick read with a lot of heart, Blackberry Winter is the perfect pick for an autumn evening, as the nights grow longer and chillier. Bring out your steaming cocoa, pull up your comfy armchair, and prepare to disappear into the charming folds of this “mystery-slash-love story.”