Wonderfully terrifying, this horror has a mean hook that is sure to get under your skin...
Most horror novels disappoint in some way: there is an over-abundance of gratuitous gore to mask the absence of an actual plot; the plot is a contrived, mind-numbing rehash of a better story; or it simply fails to deliver any chills at all. You know what Iím talking about. Even the ďbigĒ names donít always deliver. Can you honestly remember the last time you read a pulse-quickening horror that made you glad to be tucked up under your duvet at night? And then, Dead of Winter drops into our inbox. Iíd never heard of Brian Moreland, but the blurb sounded enticing and for a horror fan, bloody footprints are always a classic. So, I thought: Iíll give it a whirlÖ
Itís 1878, Ontario, Canada and winter is looming. For Pendleton Fort, this means knuckling down, getting the fur trappers back inside and ensuring there are adequate supplies to keep the colony going until spring. The last thing everyone needs, including the chief factor, Avery Pendleton, are missing people, unsolved murders and frightening talk of strange animals stalking the forest. Inspector Tom Hatcher and his son, Chris, have been at the fort for a matter of weeks. On the same day that Hatcher discovers the half mangled body of one of the missing women, the group also stumble across a delirious young girl from the neighbouring Manitou Outpost. Close to death, the girl is quickly accepted into Pendleton Fort for medical attention. With her, she carries the encrypted diary of Father Jacques and an accompanying letter stressing the importance of getting the diary into the hands of Father Xavier in Montreal. It isnít until the girl begins showing signs of unnatural behaviour that Tom suspects that he has let more than just a sick girl into their midst.
OK, so Morelandís narrative isnít a dazzling display of literary agility or finesse. And the story is abrupt and punchy, with some chapters consisting of only a few paragraphs. But the story Ė the story gave me goosebumps. Itís what youíd get if you shuffled up scenes from The Exorcist and Silence of the Lambs. The raw potency of it sets your teeth on edge and your blood singing. The carnage is sufficiently bloody to satiate the need for peril, whilst reining in enough to enable the reader to use their imagination, which is always infinitely worse. The build up towards the climatic finale is cleverly hoarded as a beaver dam holds a river at bay; the pressure is a tangible force compelling you to race to the endÖ I put this novel down and felt a moment of stunned silence. By far, the best horror Iíve read for a long, long time. I didnít know who Brian Moreland was before Ė I do now.
We interview C J Daugherty about Night School
- 10 January 2012