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The Ice Harvest: A Novel Paperback – October 30, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 217 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (October 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345440196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345440198
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #774,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For all that it involves organized crime, naked women, grumpy bouncers, a serious snowstorm, and a hero with a profound drinking pattern, The Ice Harvest is a quiet little book--noir-ish, certainly, but never to excess. As the novel traces Charlie Arglist's trail around his small Kansas hometown on Christmas Eve, 1979, the lawyer's literal footprints are clear enough, given the whopper of a blizzard that's descended, but his metaphorical path is far less obvious. He's killing time before leaving town, but where is he going? And why?

Scott Phillips' sketch of a crooked lawyer on the lam is amusingly ironic: though there's violence aplenty in the novel--including a morbidly comic finger-breaking scene starring Spencer, a philosophical bouncer at the Sweet Cage, one of the strip clubs Charlie oversees for Bill Gerard--this is Waiting for Godot rather than Goodfellas. Phillips masterfully sets up the reader's expectations for action and adventure, dropping cryptic hints about Charlie's past, present, and future, then gleefully keeps Charlie in a holding pattern, circling from one strip club to another, from bars to massage parlors to his former in-laws' house.

But when the world isn't scripted by Beckett, all waiting games must come to an end. Charlie's gamble--it would be cheating to tell you more than that it involves a little cocaine, a beautiful woman of indeterminate origin, a Christmas package full of cash, and an embarrassing photograph--pays off, and he heads out of town. How far does he get? Well, that's another story--and another opportunity for Phillips to show off the mordant humor that may brand him as the Cohen brothers' literary heir apparent. In his hands, Kansas doesn't seem far at all from Fargo. --Kelly Flynn --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Everywhere you look, trashy people are doing trashy things in this darkly delicious debut comic thriller. Set in the middle of a Christmas Eve blizzard in 1979 Wichita, the novel opens with lawyer-turned-petty-mobster Charlie Arglist marking time before an important meeting with his shady partner, Vic Cavanaugh. After this meeting he plans to leave Wichita hurriedly with a load of cash and, presumably, the enmity of its rightful owner, Bill Gerard, the local head of a larger regional crime syndicate. Charlie and Vic run a string of strip bars around Wichita for Gerard, from which they have been skimming cash on the sly. But Charlie, who sets out to visit all the outposts in his "empire" one last time, lets a drunken spirit of Yuletide sentimentality (or maybe spite) trigger an unprecedented (and therefore highly visible) string of improvisations. He comps some of his dancers' shakedown money, causing a riot at a club; he unwisely lets his would-be girlfriend in on one of Gerard's blackmail scams. Then he and his ex-brother-in-law crash the Christmas gathering of their cumulative ex-family, setting off a whole new string of disasters. For Charlie there is only the imminent future of his escape with Gerard's money, and it isn't until he discovers a fresh corpse buried behind Vic's empty house that he realizes that his future isn't what it used to be. Newcomer Phillips's seedy characters are skillfully developed, particularly the semiremorseful Charlie. The frigid Midwestern setting is the perfect frame for Charlie's wretched situation; the time period emphasizes the low-level viciousness of Charlie's contemporaries, and Phillips wastes no time in piling up the bodies. Charlie's final confrontation with Gerard will likely leave readers nauseated with laughterAaltogether not a bad way to debut in crime fiction. Agent, Nicole Aragi at Watkins-Loomis. Rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. W. Rasband VINE VOICE on February 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
Charlie Arglist is a crooked attorney who, with his associate Vic, has ripped off a large sum of money from his employer, the mob boss of Wichita. It's Christmas Eve, 1979, and Charlie is making the rounds of strip bars, killing time until he can make his escape in the morning. As the long night wears on Charlie gradually realizes that his scheme has gone horribly, horribly wrong. The bodies begin to pile up and Charlie becomes more and more desperate until it all leads to a mordantly ironic conclusion. "The Ice Harvest" is a short, sharp shocker. It's set in the worst year of the worst decade in recent American history, and is wonderfully satirical in its tour of the sleazy stripper-and-porn underbelly of midwestern America.

Like many others I first became aware of this novel because of the John Cusack-Billy Bob Thornton movie version. Screenwriters Robert Benton and Richard Russo came up with some memorably witty dialogue and fleshed out some of the characters like Thornton's Vic, Oliver Platt as Charlie's drunken buddy, and Randy Quaid's scary gangster. But uncertain and meandering direction caused the tension to slacken. Worse, rather than the book's swift decent into hell, the filmmakers imply that Charlie's ordeal has finally made a man out of him, which is a serious misreading of the novel. And they tacked on a ridiculous "happy" ending instead of Phillips' bitter surprise coda.

So stick with the novel. The blurbs on the hardcover edition compare it to James Crumley, Jim Thompson, and James M. Cain. High praise indeed, but "The Ice Harvest" certainly earns it.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Nancy F. Jones on January 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I have to love a writer who can tell a great story in under 300 pages. And make no mistake, this is a great story. Mean, lowdown and dirty, with a cast of characters who have not one redeeming quality between them. It all takes place in Wichita on Christmas Eve in 1979. Charlie is a shady lawyer who, with his partner, Vic, has stolen enough money from their mob connected boss to leave town and start a new, better life. While Charlie waits to hook up with his partner, who has the money, and to catch his plane, he wanders aimlessly around town in a snowstorm, visiting the strip clubs owned by his boss, drinking too much, and visiting his angry ex-wife and the children he has always neglected. Phillips captures the lonely, dreary lives of the strippers, drunks and employees of the seedy clubs and bars still open on a snowy Christmas Eve. There's an incriminating photo, a package full of money, and lots of double dealing. Charlie is a man who has some good intentions and impulses, but generally manages to overcome them. It's a violent book, funny and ironic, too. Phillips creates an atmospheric world of lonliness, brutality and sleaze. It's a stunning debut. I can't wait for the follow-up.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gebert on November 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The obvious comparisons the reviews are making are to Fargo (yes, it's blackly funny and full of snow) and A Simple Plan (whose author is quoted on the back). I'd add Fredric Brown's His Name is Death-- another book about a guy who doesn't plan to be a murderer but winds up shedding gallons of blood everywhere he goes during one long night. And maybe the legendary Christmas episode of Dragnet, for its picture of Christmas Eve as experienced by barflies and strippers and everyone who doesn't have a home to go to even on that night.
The first part of the book has an authentically Jack Webbian feel for low-rent lowlife, taking us on an amusing tour of the skanky, pathetic underworld of a place like Wichita, where only a few regulars manage to keep the hot spots from closing up by 8:00 (though there's some hope of business picking up once church gets out). You're just about thinking that you've seen enough of that when Phillips drops the ax with a loud, wet thud, and then it's a breathless ride to grisly disaster for everyone Charlie Arglist meets. Christmas Eve proves to be a wonderfully mordant backdrop for the mayhem this book perpetrates, the one night that a sleepy place like Wichita is even more somnescent, and by the time that Charlie is disturbing a small child by rifling a Christmas tree in the wee hours of the morning, you know you've found the noir Christmas fable to serve as the antidote to all the Grinch-mania and commercial cheer that's about to descend on us. Ho ho ho, indeed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Wendell Henderson on January 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
I recently read Scott Phillips' "Cottonwood" based on a favorable review and enjoyed it a great deal. As often happens when I like a newly-discovered author, I go back and check some of his earlier work. Thus, I found "Ice Harvest" and I'm glad I did.

It's a very slight work, both in terms of length and plot. Clocking in at barely 200 pages, it tells the tale of a mob lawyer about to hit the road after scamming a large amount of money. The story is old but the way Phillips tells it is fresh and new. He doesn't insult the reader by spelling everything out up front; he lets the story unfold leisurely as the lawyer, preparing to leave, makes his way around town on a bitter cold Christmas Eve. What I found refreshing is that Phillips doesn't spell out every character in terms of who he or she is; he lets you discover it. People pop up, their relationship to the lawyer is unclear, names are tossed out and the reader isn't sure who they are, but at the end it all makes perfect sense. In other words, Phillips is an author who has respect for the intelligence of his audience. His writing is crisp and the atmosphere he creates is vivid. You feel like you know the characters and their milieu; everything seems real.

As in most noir fiction, no one is what you would call an upstanding citizen but Phillips makes you care about all of them. And the final denouement, which I have to admit I didn't see coming, left me smiling; it felt just right. It is so refreshing, after having recently read a James Patterson novel, to find an author who cares about such things as plot, characterization, and atmosphere. This is an excellent piece of work, highly recommended.
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