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Review: THE DEAD OF WINTER by Lee Collins

October 22 2012

Published by Angry Robot
Release Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Available in Paperback, Audio Download and Kindle editions

In Short: Cora and her husband, bounty hunters of monsters in the employ of the Church, come to Colorado to explore some unexplained deaths.
Recommended: Sort of.

No matter how many monsters she and Ben put to rest, something new always managed to spring up. It was almost as if the Devil took it as some sort of challenge. They had battled his minions for well over fifteen years now, yet he still managed to toss something new their way every once in a while.

I’ll say it right off so there’s no question about my recommendation: this is a pretty good book. If you’re in the market for a blend of supernatural and the Wild, Wild West, this book is a safe bet. It’s got plenty of action both of the monster and gunslinging variety. There are shootouts on horseback, spooky mines, brothels, taverns with the piano player plinking away in the corner… it also has vampires and spooks and monsters galore. If that sounds like your cup of tea, then this is a book you’ll want to pick up. That’s not to say it’s without problems.

The story is like a nineteenth century prequel to Supernatural. Cora Oglesby and her husband, Ben, have been working for the Church for nigh on fifteen years, taking out monsters. When the marshal of a Colorado mining town discovers oddly mutilated bodies in the woods, Cora decides to see if she and her hubby can lend a hand. They discover a monster the likes of which they haven’t seen and don’t know how to fight, but that’s just the start of their problems.

My biggest problem with the book – and it’s a relatively minor one, all told – is the way things shift gears in the middle. Around the halfway mark the plot sags and stutters a bit because the story is pretty much coming to an end. You can almost feel the story digging in its heels and holding onto the door frame. When it gets its feet again, the plot has jumped to a completely different track. I compared it to Supernatural earlier… if this was a television show, then the book would cover two different episodes that were tied together by a single location. It was a touch jarring, but ended up making me feel like the book should have been separated into Book 1 and Book 2.

Another problem I had with early parts of the book is resolved in a very, very clever way that I won’t go into here. I found myself irritated enough with one thing to the point where I was making notes about it for this review, but the author managed to redeem it so much that I’m not even going to bring it up.

I also enjoyed the fact that, despite Cora and Ben working for the Church and essentially getting their marching orders from a priest, the book never becomes overtly religious. Their weapons are blessed, they pray and read from the Bible, but it never goes so far as becoming a “Message” book. It’s just something that’s in their lives that they believe strongly in. It’s a nice example of how religion can be part of a story without overwhelming it.

Cora herself is an amazing heroine. Tough as nails and able to hold her own in a bar fight, but she’s not a superhuman being. She chooses one weapon over another simply because it has less of a kick rather than using the same gun as a man just to prove she can handle it. She can cry over her losses without feeling diminished by the fact she has emotion. I was a touch surprised by the scene that revealed that after she captures a monster, she cuts a mark onto her face. It seemed like a bizarre ritual, and one that I couldn’t really make sense of even after all the cards were on the table.

The bottom line is that this is an entertaining horror/western adventure. It’s hard to go wrong with vampires on horseback. The problems I point out are piddling, minor issues that are the stigma of being a first novel. There’s more than enough good, and the bads are meager enough, that I think Lee Collins will definitely become a name to watch out for. You might as well get in on the ground floor.

A sidebar: The author’s note reveals that this book was written for National Novel Writing Month 2009, which makes it appropriate to review in Geek Speak‘s October issue. Despite the name, it’s an international writing exercise to create a manuscript of 50,000 words (or more) in the month of November. It’s insanely fun, and you get to enjoy the thrill of creating something with thousands of people all over the world. Novel-writing can be a solitary experience, but not in November! Check them out at www.nanowrimo.org!

– Geonn Cannon

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