Author: Nic Winter
Genre: Murder Mystery/Thriller
Publication Date: 4 October 2022
Available As: Paperback and e-book
When lawyer Darcy Sinclair discovers the body of local entrepreneur Elle Bradshaw, it’s more than just the gruesome scene that haunts her. All the trauma from Darcy’s childhood, the memories she’s worked so hard to expunge, rush back, and the ghosts of her past refuse to stay buried.
As autumn arrives in the Scottish village of Cedarwood, Elle’s death isn’t the only horrific tragedy that accompanies it. The body count rises, infidelities are exposed, grudges become uncovered, and it soon becomes clear to Darcy that a malignant killer resides within her inner circle.
Sociopath or psychopath? In the end, it doesn’t matter. She is being hunted by a monster hiding in plain sight. If she doesn’t uncover the truth, Darcy might just lose everything.
A Season to Kill is the debut novel of Nic Winters, one of the most supportive, hard-working, and enthusiastic writers I’ve had the pleasure to connect with on social media. The story is a murder mystery set in the fictional Scottish town of Cedarwood, a place full of well-to-do types who enjoy their luxuries, frivolities, and gossiping about their neighbours, their lives, and their fashion sense. This fancy town, which is built on old money, deceit, and chatter, is turned on its head when Elle Bradshaw, a prominent member of the social elite, is found dead in her home and rumours of foul play begin to circulate around Cedarwood.
At the centre of all of this is Darcy Sinclair, an everyday wife and mum of two. Darcy is an overworked and undervalued dispute resolution lawyer who is easily the most genuine and honest person in all of Cedarwood. Having inherited her house from her beloved deceased mother, Darcy very much feels like an outsider compared to her friends and social circle: she doesn’t place high value on brands, is well aware that she’s not some catwalk model, and cannot stand the constant two-faced spite that surrounds her at every turn. Yet, Darcy is one smart cookie; she knows that she needs to play the game and bite her tongue in order to have an easy life free from drama, but drama very much explodes into her life when she finds Elle’s body and becomes caught up in the confusion and investigation surrounding her death.
Considering that she’s a fan of true crime dramas, it’s ironic that Darcy stumbles upon Elle’s body, and the nature of Elle’s condition and death send her mind into overtime. Her inquisitive nature riles up Sergeant Jim Burns, an aggressive police officer who grills Darcy in an unusually abrasive interview that almost feels like an interrogation. Just as Darcy is trying to recover from the shock of finding one dead body, a close friend of hers is also attacked and left for dead, and all of a sudden Cedarwood seems to be at the mercy of a potential serial killer. While the social elite delights in spitting venom about the character of those being targeted and fawning over the return of Elle’s estranged son, the wheels continue to turn in Darcy’s head as she stumbles upon clues and further questions that make her think there’s a serious problem in her posh little neighbourhood.
One of the things I really enjoyed about A Season to Kill was the depiction of Darcy and the inhabitants of Cedarwood; the two couldn’t be more contrasting, as Darcy is an authentic and hardworking realist surrounded by people who care more about their make-up and social standing than the fact that the bodies are beginning to pile up around them. When her neighbours brag about their brands, the fancy schools their kids are in, and their brazen infidelities, Darcy is perfectly happy for her kids to go to public school and happily married to a supportive and loving husband. The author excels at crafting some truly reprehensible characters that surround, harass, and put down Darcy (and others) at every turn and it’s a delight to see them interacting, and getting a peek into Darcy’s inner monologue to see just how often she has to bite her tongue to save face and play this intricate game of human chess in order to pick her battles. Thankfully, not everyone in Cedarwood is a despicable, duplicitous sake; Darcy has some true friends who she actually enjoys spending time with, but even they can drive her crazy with their non-stop chatter, first world problems, and flawed personalities.
I think this is a pivotal element of A Season to Kill; these are all very flawed characters, even those who think they are at the top of the social elite. Darcy’s neighbours hide behind their wealth and influence, each of them assuming a mask of conceit in order to hide their true feelings and intentions, whereas Darcy is largely honest by nature and is forced to hide her true opinions so as not to be socially ostracised. This means that A Season to Kill really comes to life as you read it; these characters and this neighbourhood feel and sound real when you read them, and it’s easy to relate to and feel the same frustrations that Darcy feels as she tries to get to the bottom of what’s going on in her otherwise safe little town. Occasionally, the author will write from the perspective of her killer, described as a “hunter”, and deliver some tantalising insight into how they feel about their actions, the perverse pleasure they get out of it, and build a sense of dread as they turn their attention towards Darcy due to her interference. However, in a nice change of pace, the story remains focused on Darcy and is her story to tell, which means that you’re left with a laundry list of potential suspects because everyone in Cedarwood is shown to be a disgraceful person with reasons to go to extremes to protect their reputation.
Nic Winter has a real knack for pacing and crafting relatable, layered characters, and even the most two-faced members of Darcy’s social circle soon reveal that they see, feel, and know more than what was initially evident, but it’s Darcy who fittingly steals the show in A Season to Kill. Possessing a biting snark and a refreshing realism, Darcy is simply a woman trying to keep her life as simple, organised, and relaxed as possible; she doesn’t want to get dragged into the backstabbing games of the social elite and continuously swallows her pride in order to have an easy life…but when she does match wits with the upper elite, she does so with a cutting wit and delivers some home truths that far outweigh the fact that she doesn’t wear Gucci or Prada. Having experienced a great deal of trauma and loss, Darcy is not one to dwell on the darker aspects of life and is always looking forward; but when murder strikes Cedarwood, she is forced to confront some of the ghosts of her past and all of this makes for a very relatable and heartfelt character.
I read A Season to Kill not trying to guess who was the culprit and just wanting to enjoy the writing and the dialogue, which are both fantastically well realised, but Nic Winter did a brilliant job of painting multiple inhabitants of Cedarwood as being either potential suspects or to have the motivation necessary to attack and kill others. Even so, Nic Winter pulled a wonderful twist out near the end that I didn’t see coming and then doubled down by delivering exposition regarding her killer in a really interesting way that acted as a moment of desperation and finding the will to fight back for self-preservation and against being victimised by a sadistic killer. Typically, I don’t really read a lot of murder mysteries, but it’s surprising how many I have read since I started reviewing indie books. A Season to Kill was a highly enjoyable and engaging read; it’s very “readable”, which is a term I usually dislike but I think is more than suitable here thanks to Nic Winter’s well-crafted characters and dialogue. I felt like these characters, especially Darcy, were extremely realistic and well-rounded and the writing was always appealing, alluring, and even amusing at times. The book never feels too wordy, never drags, and there’s always another colourful or conceited character waiting around the corner to upset the applecart, and I found myself really connecting with Darcy and her plight. Fans of true crime and murder mysteries will probably get even more out of it as Nic Winter builds a great sense of mystery and ominous dread surrounding the dark events that descend upon Cedarwood, and I enjoyed the way she painted so many different characters as suspects to craft a very entertaining read.
If you’re interested in checking out A Season to Kill, and to learn more about Nic Winter and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.