Title: The Winter People
Writer: Jennifer McMahon
Publishing House: Anchor
Date of Publication: February 11th 2014
Rating: 3 stars
“Sometimes they’re angry. They hate being stuck.”
This was one of my most anticipated scheduled reads for the year. It felt appropriate for the beginning of the winter, since November calls for stories with supernatural twists. The title and the front cover set the scenery. This proved to be a story rich in atmosphere, local lore and with an engaging plot line. And it was also an example of how fast can a certain 5-stars read become a 3 within 120 pages…In my opinion…
The story follows two different plot lines that are obviously connected to each other. Set in West Hall, Vermont, a land of witches and dark woods, we initially find ourselves in 1908 when Sara loses what is most precious and dearest to her. Her daughter. And she wants her to return close to her. In our present times, two girls living in Sara’s house, discover their mother is missing. Another woman, Katherine, wants to find answers to her husband’s death. These stories are linked by a common denominator, a strange, nameless threat that lurks in the woods.
The atmosphere is excellent. Actually, it’s beyond excellent. It’s exemplary both in construction and execution. McMahon creates a setting that draws you in from the very start. Girls are disappearing without a trace, animals are found dead, violently killed, the children are locked in their houses once darkness falls. The land is mysterious, there are whispers of witches living in caves, spirits making their home inside tree trunks. As I was reading, I could honestly feel the cold wind, I could picture the wintry woods, I could hear boots walking with heavy steps upon the snow. The plot, although supernatural in essence, was quite believable and there were many domestic scenes that were chilling and foreboding. These features in combination with Sara, Ruthie and Fawn, who are very interesting characters, made me certain that this would be a wonderful novel. And then a character was brought in and everything changed…
Although the descriptive parts were brilliant, the dialogue wasn’t worthy of laurels. It was acceptable (and merely passable at times) since there was too much repetition and quite a few stiff interactions. When this creature Candace came along, a nightmare started. She did a major harm to the novel and the story would have been a 100 times better without her. The dialogue became cringe – worthy, the characters’ actions became absurd, the whole construction was torn down. She seemed to have sprung out of a low-quality chick-thriller book (or film, a genre that I deeply loathe) and she sounded like a poorly thought-out villain.The quality of the novel was brought down to a significant degree.
The other thing that disappointed me was the absurdity of the conclusion, if I may call it thus. The motive was implausible, the perpetrator was highly unlikely and not as a twist, but as a frightfully inconsistent choice. Furthermore, the whole plot seemed laughable during the last 100 pages. I may sound harsh but this is how I felt. The line between haunting and unexplained and ridiculous is very thin and I’m afraid that the last steps of the story walked towards the latter.
I recommend the book, though. I really do. It is “Halloween – approved” and the writer knows how to set the pawns. But how do I rate a book that was 5-stars material until the 50% mark and then fell into the 2-stars abyss? I know that most people will enjoy it. It’s just that I wanted more but what I got was very little. It was another case of expectations ending unfulfilled. May you fare better…