So I joined this awesome book club with the National Post called The Afterword Reading Society. The awesome thing about it is that I get an email about their book for the week, I click on the link that I’m interested, and sometimes I get a free copy of the book to read. I do have to send back answers to some review questions, but I get to save my unbridled reviewing opinions for you beautiful people on my blog.
I received “The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago. I will openly admit my bias against ghost stories or anything resembling a horror book, so this book and I were bound to have a rocky relationship. But the leaf description sounded promising so I gave it a try.
This book is about West Hall, Vermont where mysterious stories centre around the Devil’s Hand behind the Shea house. The story begins in the 1900s with the horrific deaths of Sara Harrison Shea and her loved ones including her young daughter, Gertie. In the present day, Ruthie Washburne and her family live in the Shea’s old house. When the mother goes missing, Ruthie begins to discover the history and secrets that lie in the house as she looks for clues. Katherine is also searching for answers after her husband’s car crash and her discoveries lead her to the old Shea house. Ruthie and Katherine both find portions of Sara’s diary and her unbelievable secret of bringing back the dead for seven days as sleepers. Is it so unbelievable or is it the solution to the unanswered questions that plague the town’s history? And does Sara’s story connect to the disappearance of Ruthie’s mother and the death of Katherine’s husband?
The book starts off well enough with good character descriptions, and a fascinating chapter structure by year and differing first person narration. I had a sufficient amount of chills and curiosity midway through to continue reading the book, but felt slightly confused with the amount of storylines. I think that Sara’s and Ruthie’s stories were sufficient to carry the book, and Katherine (and the later introduction of Candace) add unnecessary plot chaos.
The stories were interesting and I did find myself wanting to know the answer behind Sara’s death and the fate of Ruthie’s missing mother. However, this book was plagued with the same issues I encounter in most horror or mystery stories: the ending is never as good as the mystery itself. (spoiler alert in italics) We do discover that sleepers exist and that Gertie was brought back to life by her mother, Sara. But so many aspects of this important revelation go unexplained, as if the revelation of Gertie’s sleeper existence is solution enough for the mystery. For example, why does little giggling, lonely girl ghost Gertie have violent tendencies (which appear only when convenient to the storyline such as killing the bad characters)? At the end, we are supposed to believe that Ruthie accepts that some scary creature lives in her backyard, and she is okay with giving up her dreams of escaping small town life to help protect the town, like she is suddenly some kind of Buffy-esque heroine with magical powers of controlling living dead people? Like I said…unexplained and unsatisfying ending to the mystery.
Although “The Winter People” was on its way to producing a good scrambled mystery of ghosts and murder, it wasn’t done quite right and ended up leaving a disappointing mess on my reading palate instead.
2.5/5 bacon strips
P.S. The only horror book I have found truly brilliant and horrifying (while still able to read through without crippling nightmares) is “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. Give it a try if you’re looking for a scare. I still remember stifling a scream when I read about those creepy red eyes staring out from a dark corner. *shiver* Make sure to leave the lights on!