THE DEAD OF WINTER by Lee Collins – Review

The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins

Genre: Western/Paranormal/Horror

Publisher: Angry Robot

Release Date: October 30 2012

Pages: 384

Set in the old west of Colorado just after the end of the civil war, this gritty supernatural tale is high on my list of favorite books this year. Filled with colorful characters, authentic dialog and plenty of blood and mayhem, I was not expecting to love it as much as I did. There are so many successful elements that make up this book, but the best one has got to be the character of Cora, a truly unique protagonist whose rough edges might turn some readers off, but will more likely have you cheering by the end of the book. Collins also pulls off a flabbergasting twist with one of his characters that was brilliant and completely unexpected, the kind of twist that makes you want to re-read the book to see what you missed.

Cora and Ben Oglesby are hunters, but the game they hunt is a little unusual. They track and kill “spooks,” creatures of the night like vampires and werewolves, and their travels have brought them to Leadville, a small mining town in Colorado.  It’s a good thing, too, because two townsfolk have just been brutally murdered and eaten, and the town Marshal has no idea what killed them. Cora approaches Marshal Mart Duggan and offers her services to rid Leadville of the beast for good, which he gratefully accepts. But when Cora goes off by herself to look for the killer, she gets more than she bargains for and is nearly killed herself when she finds a corpse-like creature with spidery legs and arms hiding in a mining tunnel. Cora and Ben seek help from a priest named Father Baez who gives them the ammunition they need to kill it, but their problems in Leadville are far from over. Collins has plenty in store that will keep readers flipping the pages of this inventive and thrilling tale.

Cora is not your typical heroine, not by a long shot, but I’m hoping you grow to love her as much as I did. She drinks whiskey, gambles, swears and kills things better than most men, but she’s also a tender-hearted wife who loves her husband.  She is fearless and brave when it comes to hunting vampires, but she’s also got a vulnerable side that she hides behind a prickly veneer, as well as some secrets in her past that even she has trouble remembering.  Collins has a real talent for dialog, and Cora’s snappy quips are some of my favorite parts of the story. Here’s a conversation between Cora and James, a scholar of the supernatural that joins Cora in tracking the monster:

“Don’t misunderstand me,” James said, looking her in the eye. “…The foe we face is possibly the most dangerous one you will encounter in your life. If you approach it with the same jocularity you have displayed thus far, you will end up dead or one of his minions.”

“Don’t you worry, King George,” Cora said. “I aim to do this one sober.”

“Do you typically fight the supernatural while intoxicated?”

“It’s been known to happen,” Cora said, grinning at him.

James shook his head in wonder. “I find it remarkable that you’re alive, Mrs. Oglesby.”

“I could say the same, James. People that take this kind of thing too serious end up killing themselves with worry before the spooks get the chance.”

Cora definitely steals the show, but there were other characters that I loved as well. Marshal Mart Duggan just about matches Cora’s ability to fight, and he was actually more of a male counterpart to Cora than her husband Ben, who is a bookish sort of man. Ben’s secret wish is to eventually give up their vagabond lifestyle and open up a print shop, but he’s so in love with Cora that he goes along with her. It’s not often I come across a book whose main characters are married, and I thought it was a fresh way to approach a story.

The chilly winter setting of the story makes it all the more terrifying. The characters are hampered by snow and ice, which makes it difficult for Cora and the gang to hunt. Some of the scariest books I’ve read are set in the snow (The Shining, The Terror, Let Me In), and the fact that reading about snow makes me uncomfortable to begin with only heightened my distress.

Don’t let the cover fool you. What appears peaceful on the surface is bound to turn ugly. There are a lot of surprises between the pages of The Dead of Winter, and I reckon you ought to read this book as soon as possible.

Many thanks to the publisher Angry Robot for supplying a review copy. The above quote is taken from an advance proof copy and may be different in the final version of the book.

You can purchase The Dead of Winter here and visit Lee Collins’ website here.

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