Jennifer McMahon brings readers a classic ghost story with a twist in her 2014 novel The Winter People. McMahon will have you guessing and hanging on by a thread, chilled to the bone, and on the edge of your seat until the book’s end.
West Hall, Vermont has always been a tiny town filled to the brim with legends, secrets, and folklore. What seems to be a curse has always haunted the town, centered around the death of Sara Harrison Shea, who was found murdered in 1908 just months after the tragic death of her little girl, Gertie. Fast-forward to present day, 19-year-old Ruthie lives in the same farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and little sister, Fawn. When Ruthie’s mother mysteriously goes missing, she searches the old house for clues regarding Alice’s strange disappearance, which leads her to discover some disturbing items, among them a gun, two strangers’ wallets, and the diary of Sara Harrison Shea. Sara’s diary describes events leading up to and after the death of her daughter, Gertie, and right before her own death. Ruthie simultaneously learns of the bone-chilling world and happenings in 1908 involving desperate acts such as bringing the dead back to life (sleepers as they are known as), and unearths secrets in the present regarding her home, her mother, and even herself, realizing both past and present are more connected then she would like.
The Winter People flip-flops between three main narrators: Sara Harrison Shea from the past, Ruthie in the present, and a woman named Katharine from the present who finds her way into the story as well. Each perspective collides wonderfully, upping the suspense and the shudders with each and every page, leading to a fantastic climax and what I thought to be a very good ending. McMahon makes one ponder, how far would you go to bring back the person you love? To what degree would you sacrifice? Also, what terrible consequences may come from meddling between the two worlds of living and dead? “Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”
This novel was story-telling at its finest. I’m confident in saying this is now one of my favorite books. The Winter People was deliciously chilling and it left me thoroughly creeped out multiple times to the point of goosebumps and hesitance to look over my shoulder. It’s been a couple days since I have finished reading and I still can’t stop thinking about it. I’m still spooked! The Winter People is downright scary, I’ll be honest. (A woman is found skinned alive and a dead little girl scratches and scuttles her way out of the closet!) Now if you’re changing your mind about reading this book because what I just said is disturbing, don’t! It is done tastefully. It’s the kind of scary story that legends are made of and gets told over a roaring campfire at night. It also has a fairytale quality to it, with dark magic trickling its way in, personification of the woods, and the luring of children.
Overall, I’d say The Winter People should not be missed. If you’re looking for hair-raising suspense that’s hard to put down and even harder to get out of your head, then The Winter People is for you.