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Book Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidel

dead of wynter spencer seidel Book Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidel


Spencer Seidels debut Dead of Wynter is your classic gritty murder mystery readthe type best read curled up on the couch with a cup of something hot (or perhaps, given the subject matter of this book, something strong). Like Adam Bakers Outpost, which I recently reviewed, it draws heavily on setting not only as part of its plot, but also for mood. Dead of Wynter is set in the backwater town of Redding, Maine, during a frigid winter plagued with snowstorms. These harsh conditions, of course, not only represent environmental tumult, but are also a precipitative force for madness: seasonal affective disorder and cabin fever are of course common conditions in weather like this. This type of weather, too, also highlights the fragility of human life, something which Seidel uses to its full effect throughout his novel.

Late one night successful marketing executive Alice Dunn receives a phone call from her estranged mother. Alices father, a broken man whose life has been destroyed over the years by his alcoholism, has been found dead in the midst of a snowstorm. Alice, who has spent years attempting to move on from her humble beginnings, is ambivalent at best about the thought of returning to Mainealthough exactly why we only find out later. Upon arriving in Redding, however, Alice not only has to deal with the death of her father, but also the fact that his death is not from natural causes. The suspect? Alices twin brother Chris, himself an alcoholic and lost, tragic figure. But Alices fathers death turns out to be the first of many, and as Alices family is slowly obliterated, she has to face the realisation that shes likely to be next.

Alices narrative is accompanied by an additional timeline occurring some thirty years or so in the past. This narrative traces the roots of her brothers alcoholism and his spiral into despair: Alices brother spent his teen years running with a small crew called the Masters of Chaos whose mischief very quickly escalated into horrific acts of violence. This dual perspective touches on Chriss ethical desultoriness, but also on the sociopathic character of Alices cousin Ray, an eerie, emotionless lad who would be easily at home in Robert Cormiers We All Fall Down (see my review). Additionally, it slowly teases out the reasons behind Alices estrangement from her family, her need to conceal her upbringing, and her emphatic use of her new surname.'But as shes reminded the moment that she returns to Redding, shell always be Alice Wynter, a fact that becomes increasingly apparent as she finds herself once more embroiled in all the familiar situations of her previous life: her crazed family dynamics, the bucolic lethargy of the town, the torment of the weather, and even the advances of an old flame. All of these combine to dramatic effect, culminating in an absorbing Fargo-esque climax towards the end of the book.

But then the plot veers into no-mans land, and its hard not to let rip with a cry of dismay when the murderers identity is revealed and their motivations are laid out. Rapes? Secret children? Revenge? Not only are these the exact scenarios I raged against in yesterdays 'review of Still Missing by Chevy Stevens, but theyre utterly nonsensical. While there are allusions to Alices dark past throughout the book, this essential plot element is kept from the reader until the last handful of pages, rendering it a most unpleasant and unbelievable twist. Its a shame, because until this point, Dead of Wynter was a solid and competently written piece of crime fiction that was doing an admirable job on most counts. Still,'I must admit that the fact that the last four books Ive read have contained rape scenes and/or violence against women is raising some warning bells with me as a reader: in my mind this use of rape as titillation is not on, and its prevalence in literature as a plot point or shortcut towards characterisation needs to be addressed.

Still, questionable climax and frustrating issues aside, theres a lot of like about Dead of Wynter. The writing is the spare, matter-of-fact prose one expects from a crime novel, but the characters (with the exception of our surprise murderer) are surprisingly sympathetic, no doubt in part because of the time Seidel spends fleshing them out and examining their motivations. 'Its not a groundbreaking piece of fiction, but its a solid debut, and I suspect that there are good things to come from Seidel.


Rating: star Book Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidelstar Book Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidelstar Book Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidelblankstar Book Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidelblankstar Book Review: Dead of Wynter by Spencer Seidel (good)

With thanks to Meryl L Moss media relations for the review copy

Purchase Dead of Wynter from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

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