Upon first glance, the opening statement of Frederick Lightfoot’s The Extinction of Snow might not amount to much; but you find yourself wondering what it means. As you progress to the subsequent paragraph, this ostensibly meaningless sentence suddenly seems harrowing as it is in actual fact the last sentence of an email that a mother received from her now dead son Joseph. This shocking discovery puts into motion a sequence of actions. You find yourself going back to the sentence, re-reading it and conjuring up your own theories about why it was written the way it is: is he saying he’s scared? Is he asking for comfort? Is he asking her to come for him? In a few sentences, Frederick Lightfoot allows us to reach into the mind of Louise Tennant, a grieving mother consumed by the last communication of her son. We are instantly hooked by the story, sharing the thoughts of Louise that her son’s death was not just an accident.
The effects of this e-mail ripple throughout the novel as it is the basis for the main protagonist Louise’s search for answers. Often dismissed as simply a heartbroken mother, Louise is constantly told to move on, and to forget that the terrible “accident” ever happened. However, Louise refuses to listen to anything other than a mother’s intuition. She is convinced that all around her are lying, attempting to conceal the truth about her son’s death. As the narrative unfolds, this assumption is proven to be true. Several manipulative characters, all connected to Joseph’s past and previously unknown to his mother, offer new perspectives on Joseph and his circumstances, leaving Louise with a sense of doubt over how well she really knew her son.
The series of awkward, often hostile, encounters between people in Joseph’s past and Louise reveals further layers of Joseph’s character, leaving an even more sinister image of his death in France. We learn that Joseph was involved in the development of a new drug named Nivis, which has devastating effects when tested on animals. Rennstadt, the corrupt company who funded this research, only cares about capital gains. There is money to be lost if the truth is revealed, and money to be gained if it is kept hidden and the drug put on the market. To protect themselves, Rennstadt claimed that Joseph was abusing the drugs available to him and therefore had to be dismissed; a falsified toxicology report stated that he had drugs and alcohol in his system at time of death. All of Louise’s new acquaintances reveal information about Joseph that makes Louise question how well she really knew her son.
Despite first impressions, the novel seems to circle around Louise and her discoveries. The fallout from Joseph’s death and the ensuing lies and mystery had left her convinced that she might have failed her son. Travelling from London to France, following up on the lies she was told and uncovering the truth was her way of remedying this “failure”. Upon first glance, The Extinction of Snow seemed to be just another crime mystery novel. Yet what makes the novel so hauntingly resonant is its exploration of a mother and son relationship. Lightfoot manages to use a circumstance so awful and traumatic and twist it so as to bring that mother and son closer together, even if this closeness comes after his death.