The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins
ARC provided by Angry Robot Books
Review by N.E. White.
The Dead of Winter by Lee Collins is the first volume in his vampire western series: the Cora Oglesby Series. The tagline for these is: True Grit meets True Blood. Fortuitously, I’ve seen True Grit, but not True Blood (the HBO TV series).
Now, you may be asking, “Why would she think that ‘fortuitously’?”
Because I do not have terribly popular notions about vampires skewing my sense of their rightful place in history, particularly American Western history (if I could wink at you right now, I would).
Anyway, The Dead of Winter is about Cora Oglesby; spook hunter, devoted wife, drunk, and faithful minion of a Christian God. She’s also a damn good shot. She and her husband, Ben Oglesby, arrive in Leadville, Colorado in the dead of winter (imagine that) after the local sheriff and his deputy run across something that just don’t sit right in their minds.
In the forest around town, something took down two wolf hunters, making a bloody mess without leaving a trace of the bodies. After negotiating terms with Cora and Ben, the sheriff hands over responsibility to the spook hunters and off they go into the woods to catch their monster.
But Cora soon encounters a creature far more vile than any other she’s ever come across in her twenty years of chasing monsters. Her blessed weapons, steel blade and silver bullets, do nothing to thwart the creature, forcing her to seek advice from an old friend, a priest in Denver that may know more about this new monster than she or Ben.
After visiting the priest in Denver, Cora and Ben return, armed with knowledge and silver bullets blessed by an Indian (Native American) shaman. Because, remarkably, the spook she’s chasing isn’t an old world monster, but one unique to the Americas – a wendigo (look it up).
Just in time, they makes it back to town to save the miners and whores of Leadville from becoming the wendigo’s dinner, and she and Ben prepare to move on. Cora is thinking of retiring, but before she can take the next train out of town, she’s approached by James Townsend and he explains his employer’s problem with a dangerous nosferatu (look that up. too). The thing is, poor Cora doesn’t realize this nosferatu will shatter her view of the world.
Cora’s story is a story of faith. Faith in her god, her husband, and the good that she does for people by getting rid of their spooks. She is fighting for a Christian sense of good and evil, and when it comes to monsters eating folk’s souls, everyone can pretty much agree on what is good or evil. There’s no ambiguity about these spooks – they are monsters true to their historic origins.
Where things get a little muddled is with people, of course. Cora has her own cross to bear, so to speak, and she numbs her pain with whiskey, sleep deprivation, and fast shooting. She’s running, but we’re just not too sure who she’s running from or where to. One thing I know, she’s fun to read about.
The Dead of Winter is an interesting and entertaining story about a hard and flawed woman who must face her own sins to beat her arch-enemy. A well written story, with good pacing, the story is told in the third person. The novel is written primarily from Cora’s point of view, but the author takes occasional forays into other characters’ heads in a fashion that can be a bit disconcerting. Though Mr. Collins maintains the point of view shifts more steadily in the second half of the book, he does a bit of jumping during the first part. Just bear with it, Mr. Collins eventually settles the ride for you (sorry, it’s a western, I can’t seem to shake the vernacular).
This novel is also steeped in western tropes. None of the characters will surprise you. The Mexican deputy is inept. The miners do nothing but drink and whore when they are not mining. The sheriff is steely eyed and dedicated to the town. And the priest alway knows best. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but by sticking so close to the genre’s roots, it doesn’t allow this book to stand out.
What I enjoyed most about The Dead of Winter is the nosferatu. He’s appropriately evil, powerful, and flawed – a fitting adversary for our cocky heroine.
If you’ve read a lot of westerns, this will probably bore you. There’s nothing new here. If you’ve read and seen a lot of the more recent vampire series and wished for something with a bit more grit, then this might be for you. I enjoyed it.
N.E. White, October 2012.