Written by: James Keen
“Everyone knows how this is gonna end…” – ‘Snowblind’.
Golden gets things off to an atmospheric start and in the process ably delineates a cast of characters we’ll follow through a narrative split between two storms, twelve years apart. While the pace of this horror novel is by-and-large brisk this is likely to prove to be, for many, an exercise in all-too familiar genre territory exploited umpteen times before. Golden opens with his town of Coventry, USA in the early 00’s beset by a particularly nasty blizzard that has managed to shut down schools, cut off electricity and make driving hazardous enough for the local police force to be nervous about being effectively vigilant. The events that take place during this first big storm of course inform what is to come more than a decade later with yet another freezing weather anomaly revisiting the town. During the initial frosty disaster quite a few lives are lost and it’s the fallout from those tragedies that becomes the focus of the novel proper, therefore only adding to the apprehension of the populace as another similarly ferocious storm prepares to engulf the town.
From the urban sprawl that is Coventry, Golden offers up a cast of protagonists that are deftly and economically portrayed with his pool of personalities running the gamut of young and old, the temperate and the degenerate, all conveniently linked by circumstance to the novel’s lynchpin, the once-rookie-now-detective Joe Keenan who’s haunted by the events in the first icy disaster, and sees this second crippling sub-zero calamity as an opportunity for some kind of redemption. Though the character of Keenan is a readily appealing one, it’s the character of young Doug Manning that proves to be the book’s most engaging, morally ambiguous one. A down-on-his-luck type who perhaps has never been given a decent break, just a reasonably good guy who’s forced by circumstance to do things he wishes he didn’t have to. Golden does an excellent job of fleshing out the roles for each of his townspeople; their motivations aren’t unduly sabotaged in any obvious way by an unyielding plot, as is sometimes the case with genre novels carrying multiple narrative viewpoints.
That’s the protagonists established, now how about the threat, the Dionysian force out to upset the Apollonian society and its comparatively benign nature? What does the indulgent reader get this time around- vampires, werewolves, ghosts? Well, in actuality it’s a little of all of those-an ingenious amalgam of those tired old genre fiends, served up with an icy outer layer and myriad supernatural capabilities. They’re inventive in their presentation and Golden does an admirable job of holding them in check, initially just shy of annoying over-exposure. The problem is that as the novel hurtles towards its frenzied close they unfortunately lose their impact as the author errs on the side of spectacle reducing the threat of the ‘ice men’ by depicting cartoonish and frankly silly action episodes.
After roughly the half way point in the book, the proceedings became-for this reviewer-alternately intriguing and wearisome. Characters, specifically the Larry McMurty reading, fried onion ring eating Detective Keanan lose their appeal as they display the kind of cliches associated with police you’ve seen a hundred times before on badly scripted television series. At one point upon arriving at a crime scene and checking with his subordinates Keenan utters lines like, “paint me a picture” and “what’ve we got?”, the kind of dialogue that smacks of a lazy reliance on characters as recognizable archetypes. There’s much more in the way of awkward composition as the book figuratively fishtails towards the finish line with one character musing, “she realized that they had no way to predict the wishes of the dead” along with other zingers like, “Wake up Detective. The impossible can kill you”, resulting in a jarring disconnect with the text, crippling the readers narrative immersion.
The film-maker Joss Whedon once said, ‘One job as a storyteller is to figure out what your audience wants and then never give it to them’. It’s a sentiment this reviewer happens to agree with (though it’s perplexing coming from Whedon, who in this reviewers opinion, aside from Cabin In The Woods, has never really adopted his own philosophy, but that’s another…bag of Cheese). If you’re a fan of ersatz old school Stephen King then you’ll likely enjoy this effort -apparently Golden’s first horror novel in more than ten years- and you’ll be getting exactly what you expect. For this reviewer though, after an admittedly compelling first half, the urge to leave Golden’s Coventry became, unfortunately, an increasingly attractive proposition.