by Michele Eggen
Dead of Winter
By Brian Moreland
Samhain Publishing: 2011
4 / 5 zedheads
Hopefully, most horror fans have seen the (super-duper awesome) movie Ravenous, and if they love that movie, then they will be in the perfect frame of mind to thoroughly enjoy Brian Moreland's second novel, Dead of Winter.
Moreland expertly spins a fast and bloody yarn that hooks the reader with razor-sharp talons right from the beginning and refuses to let go until the equally bloody and exciting end. The setting and supernatural occurrences also contribute to making Dead of Winter one of the most fun novels I have recently read.
In the frigid wilderness of Ontario, Canada in 1870, something evil is stalking the colonists at a fur-trading outpost. When a little girl escapes to nearby Fort Pendleton, the evil escapes with her and unleashes a sickness that turns people into ferocious cannibals with insatiable appetites. An inspector from the city, a native woman, and two priests are all that can protect the remaining colonists from becoming the victims of a predator that has stalked the woods for years - and won't give up until its evil rules the frozen landscape.
I mentioned Ravenous before because that movie and Dead of Winter seem to have a lot in common in the first part of the book - and I don't know yet if that is a good or a bad thing. They both have the similarities in time period, setting, and both deal with cannibalism in these isolated locations; however, as the story in the novel progresses, the supernatural elements quickly take over the simple cannibalism angle and become much more involved than I expected.
The style of writing is descriptive yet simplistic, with short and straight-to-the-punch chapters, some of which barely take up a page. The novel is less than 500 pages long and yet it consists of 22 parts and 225 chapters. Whoa. For the most part, this structure works because it keeps up the frenzied pace. Also, it's nice for readers to always have a stopping place close by so they can come back to the book later. However, I don't think most readers will be able to pull themselves away for very long. This book almost demands that you put your plans on hold for a while and just sit down and ride this ride from beginning to end.
Gorehounds will be more than satiated with all the nasty descriptions of violent, cannibalistic acts. The body count is no doubt quite high in this little novel, and Moreland spares no one anything less than a bloody and gruesome death. Newly-turned cannibals ripping the throats out of their own children, the discovery of fresh skeletons with nothing but strings of sinew still attached, body parts in the snow, and the stench of entrails permeate the length of the book and only seem to escalate as the story moves on. And when the story deals with supernatural enemies like demonic possession and windigos (a cannibal spirit that can possess humans or shape-shift into different animals), nothing is outside the realm of believability. It makes the foe all the more dangerous for our main characters, who don't even understand what they are truly dealing with until the climax.
Speaking of the characters, to me they were one minor downside in the book. Most of them seemed to be rather clichéd and, though they are given some backstory, not as fleshed out as they could have been. There's the tyrannical, philandering boss of the fort, Avery Pendleton. There's the strong, yet beautiful and vulnerable native woman, Anika Moonblood. There's the wannabe priest who is still struggling with the confines of his religion, Brother Andre. And there's our main character, Inspector Tom Hatcher, the cop who has lost his wife and is still haunted by that one horrifying case from his past. They are exactly the kinds of characters that you would expect to be in a story like this. The strange thing is that all of the things about these characters that make them cliché actually contribute to the story, which by the end becomes a very tangled mystery and involves all of these people in some way. Another thing about the characters is that at times they would say things and act in ways that didn't seem right for the time period - although I'm not going to doubt that Moreland did extensive research for Dead of Winter. Everything else reads as very authentic, but when you have a teenage boy rolling his eyes at his father because he doesn't like him drinking rum and hanging out with his Indian friends, it just feels like you're trying to stick a character trait in where it doesn't really fit.
But still, Dead of Winter gets two big thumbs up from me. Though the action slows down a bit in the middle when the cannibal attacks all but stop, there is still a whole lot of story to work through and it never failed at keeping me interested. This book is perfect for horror fans looking for a bloody good read that is just as graphic and exciting as any movie they could watch.
Also, I would say that this book would make a great movie itself one day…if they hadn't already made Ravenous.
Michele Eggen is a Midwestern girl who has been writing all her life and writing horror movie and book reviews on her blog THE GIRL WHO LOVES HORROR for the past two years. She works a humdrum job at a grocery store in the day and watches horror movies and episodes of Law and Order: SVU at night. She loves pasta, cats, and the color green. She is fully prepared for the zombie apocalypse and welcomes its arrival.