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What’s better than one murder mystery? Three murder mysteries set in the holy grail of creepy small towns, obviously.

Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People is a book to come to with no expectations, which may be hard because a lot of good things are said of it. It’s a small, dark story the reads very much like a classic fairy tale.


The story begins in 1908 when Sara Harrison Shea’s body is discovered behind her house not long after her young daughter Gertie’s burial. In the present day, 19-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s house with her mother and young sister. Sharing their land with a disturbing history and strange rock formation locally known as the Devil’s Hand is about as fun-filled as you’d expect. Their small Vermont town of West Hall is famous, or rather infamous, for odd disappearances and disturbing deaths.

Some call them sleepers. They may be unable to move on or rejoin the living, but they aren’t sleeping either. Many insist it’s all myth. The few who know how to bring back the dead guard the truth, passing the secret on to one and only one loved one.

This is a story that gives new meaning to the notion of holding on to those we’ve lost. It’s only human to want them back. Think of how impossible it is to accept death and imagine having a tool that means you don’t have to. The premise made me think of a line from a Donald Hall poem from the collection The Painted Bed. “You think that their / dying is the worst / thing that could happen. / Then they stay dead.

Here the impulse to bring back a loved one is irresistible to the unfortunate few who know how to, but there are consequences. And maybe they have something to do with the town’s high body count.

How long until someone listened to her and realized that, behind the madness, there might be a horrible, hidden truth.

I absolutely loved the experience of reading this book. Yes it’s dark, but it’s so well done and taps on a universal “What if?”. McMahon’s eerie style, sharp choice of words and musical rhythm consumed me. I curled up on the couch and sunk deep, embracing the sorrow and horror inherent in this tale.

Is this delusional thinking, … or am I the only one who sees things clearly?

Composed of desires and pain not easily pushed out of mind, The Winter People takes you down a jagged path and doesn’t let you turn away. It’s my favorite read of the year so far. The only negative for me was some of the ending action. I didn’t mind what happened, but the writing lost that misty atmosphere I loved so much and kind of snipped the tension. Suddenly it was gone and I was waiting for this wonderful book to be over already.

If you enjoy stories set in dual time periods, stories about the love between a mother and daughter, or just a good scary mystery I think you’ll enjoy it. BUT you will need a hug after. Unless you’re one of those people who don’t do hugs? In which case pie will be in order.