Cloudland: Book summary and reviews of Cloudland by Joseph Olshan

Cloudland

A Crime Novel

By Joseph Olshan

Cloudland
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  • Published in USA  Apr 2012,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

Once a major reporter for a national newspaper, Catherine Winslow has retreated to the Upper Valley of Vermont to write a household hints column. While out walking during an early spring thaw, Catherine discovers the body of a woman leaning against an apple tree near her house. From the corpse's pink parka, Winslow recognizes her as the latest victim of a serial killer, a woman reported missing weeks before during a blizzard.

When her neighbor, a forensic psychiatrist, is pulled into the investigation, Catherine begins to discover some unexpected connections to the serial murders. One is that the murders might be based on a rare unfinished Wilkie Collins novel that is missing from her personal library.  The other is her much younger lover from her failed affair has unexpectedly resurfaced and is trying to maneuver his way back into her affections.

Elegant, haunting and profoundly gripping, Cloudland is an ingenious psychological trap baited with murder, deception and the intricacies of desire.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"In this refreshingly cliché-free serial killer tale, Olshan tries his hand with a female narrator/heroine, whom he handles just as deftly as his sensitive male heroes." - Kirkus Reviews

"Unlike the more common, adrenaline-fueled serial-killer thrillers, this is literary, character-driven fiction with remarkable empathy not only for those whom murder leaves behind but also for the perpetrator. Another fine performance from a critically acclaimed author." - Booklist

"Olshan (The Conversion), known for his literary fiction, delivers a crime novel more likely to satisfy mainstream than genre readers." - Publishers Weekly

"Cloudland is a beautiful and original novel. Murder, darkness and snow – we immediately felt at home. The depth is painted with precise brushstrokes. The language is as light as snowflakes swirling across a frozen field. The characters are alive, constantly interesting and very cleverly drawn. The murder mystery is deep and intricate. It was genuine and moving. As readers, we'd love to linger in this book, but the story forces us forward. This is true quality crime fiction." - Lars Kepler, author of The Hypnotist

"In Cloudland, Joseph Olshan has written a truly involving thriller with the bones and brain of a serious work of literature, which gives great depth and resonance to the well-wrought thriller plot. This is so difficult an accomplishment that to my knowledge it has been managed only once before in this century. Cloudland could also be thought of as a tribute to Wilkie Collins, as much one of Olshan's grandfathers as he is of mine. It's a lovely knockout, this book." - Peter Straub, author of Ghost Story and A Dark Matter

"A thriller in the widest sense of the word - where not only does the reader wonder what happens next, they wonder why it will happen. Written in consistently elegant prose, with memorable psychological acuity, Cloudland is both exciting and compelling and will keep readers turning pages energetically." - John Katzenbach, author of The Wrong Man

"Cloudland is Joseph Olshan's best work since Clara's Heart, a novel of high suspense that's written in prose as lyrical as The Lovely Bones." - Author Steven Gaines

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Marilyn Johnson
Elegant? Haunting? Gripping?
I would like to say that I loved this book, that it was elegant, haunting, and gripping, as I saw it described on the back cover, but disappointingly, it was none of those, and I didn't.

I love language and words, and I was impressed with some of the author's "turns of phrase." I also loved the main character's love of books. The writing was descriptive, and I got a good picture of Vermont. However, I had to re-read sentences, thinking, "Was that really a sentence?" or "Why doesn't he (the author) learn to use semicolons correctly and sparsely?" I am an English teacher and still think punctuation matters, that sentences must have subjects and verbs, and that if one uses a word, it should be the appropriate word or used correctly--all this to avoid ambiguity and confusion. This story was not believable to me nor was it well -constructed. I had to re-read and dig way too hard to understand the twists because it was not clearly written. The characters were not only flat and wooden, but most were downright nasty and unlikeable.

I expected more from Catherine Winslow, the journalist/college professor and lover of literature turned household columnist and teacher of convicts. Her language ran the gamut from lofty and erudite to vulgar, including the out-of-character "F" word, and her life was a train wreck. Talk about poor choices, but especially Matthew, her lying, crying, 15-year-old, younger lover! There was also Breck, Catherine's daughter, snotty and snide; Anthony, the psychiatrist whose head was severely concussed but who wouldn't go to the hospital; and the knacker, sweet and pathetic under all the blood, sweat, and bad smell.

The author really missed the boat with the prisoners Catherine taught, had he developed their colorful personalities carefully and thoroughly. I leave the best (or the worst) for last. Does anyone really want to read about the toilet habits of the 250-pound pot-bellied pig, Henrietta, who had her own special "P spot," a grate in the kitchen floor where she urinated as guests watched? I say yuk. I wrote this in past tense because I'm happy it is in my past. I do not recommend this book.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Suzanne Z. (Highland Park, Illinois)
Flying in the Clouds
The mystery plot for about a third of the book was somewhat confusing but did evolve to be somewhat clever, the setting chilling but the characters were boring. The main character's love affair with a younger man was always teasing the reader. Actually I didn't really care about the characters though the twist at the end gave the book a boost.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Dorothy T.
More than an ordinary crime novel
I liked this book for a number of reasons: It is a mystery that let me think I had the answers to who and why--but, then again, maybe not; it sparked my interest to read more by Wilkie Collins (I love it when one author turns me on to other writers!); the characters are engaging and well-written, especially Henrietta the pot-bellied pet pig; and the prose is much more literary than the run-of-the-mill crime novel—although, as is often my complaint when reading contemporary fiction, I don’t see the need for the vulgar language.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Mary L. (Madison, MS)
Average
I agree with most the the other reviews. I struggled to complete this novel. I often had to go back to sections to understand what was happening or to remember who the character was. Sorry! It had good potiential.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Kelly H. (Chagrin Falls, OH)
A mysterious mystery
"Cloudland" has all the ingredients for a terrific murder mystery. The ingredients, however, do not mix well. The storyline has the potential to be terrific. Instead, it merely average due, in large part, to poorly-developed, flat characters. Very few of the characters It is necessary to re-read sections of a number of the chapters because a number of the characters are fungible. As an avid reader of psychological thrillers, I expected subtle clues sprinkled randomly throughout the story to throw the reader off course and to make the reader want more.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Zonetta G. (Winter Springs, FL)
Cloudland
The characters in this book come to life and become the reader's friends and neighbors. All of them, from Nan, the clairvoyant, to Hiram, the knacker, to Henrietta, Catherine's pet pig, are intriguing. The book rides on Olshan's descriptions of winter in Cloudland and the murders that occur and the personalities involved--a real page turner. I'll definitely read more of his books.

...28 more reader reviews

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Joseph Olshan is the award-winning author of nine novels. His broad-ranging subjects vary from the wise, tough-minded, hilarious Clara Mayfield who became the model of the film character based on his novel, Clara's Heart, to an aristocratic, politically savvy Italian novelist who lives in a villa in Tuscany (The Conversion). Cloudland is based on a true crime story: the serial murders of 6 women that occurred in the Connecticut River valley of Vermont and New Hampshire, crimes that were never solved. His writing has been translated into sixteen languages. He lives between Vermont and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit him at josepholshan.com.

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