Guterson wraps the plot around the trial, taking place in dead of winter during a once-in-a-decade snowstorm that knocks out power and strands off-island jurors in a cold hotel. The background of victim Carl Heine and accused Kabuo Miyamoto is told in flashbacks driven by court testimony or characters' reminiscences. And sometimes the drive is a slow one, grinding to a halt the momentum of the tension of the trial and face-to-face interaction of family (on a small island, even enemies are close neighbors), friends, and busybody townspeople. The book isn't dull, by any stretch, just be warned it can move at a leisurely pace.
But the real tension is driven by culture, particularly as we learn the back story of newsman Ishmael Chambers and Hasue Miyamoto. And the tension is sharpened by the war, when the island's Japanese-American population was shipped to mainland concentration camps, and the aftermath of the war, when men from both cultures return as wounded war veterans. Some wear their wounds (and their culture-the irony of islanders of German heritage calling those of Japanese heritage by nature suspect citizens is not lost here) on their sleeve, others bury them behind protective barriers.
While nominally a mystery, this is really a novel about people at war. And as the outcome often does in war, the outcome here will turn on what the characters do at the moment of decision. The ending may not surprise, but neither will it disappoint.
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