The Dead of Winter – Review
By Sarah Morgan
One day, somebody will release a sun-kissed collection of spooky stories. As far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been one yet anyway (but I’m willing to stand corrected on that – and will even review it), but there’s a seemingly endless supply of tomes dedicated to wintery scares.
It’s pretty obvious why – long nights, snow-laden landscapes and fog-shrouded towns and villages are the perfect settings for supernatural tales involving things that go bump in the night.
The latest edition to tread this familiar but enthralling path is The Dead of Winter, edited by Cecily Gayford, whose previous works include Murder in Midwinter, published in 2020.
This time she’s chosen ‘Ten Classic Tales for Chilling Nights’, as the front cover blurb announces. It features the usual suspects when it comes to authors, including MR James (represented by ‘The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance’), EF Benson (‘The Gardener’), Arthur Conan Doyle (‘The Case of Lady Sannox’) and Algernon Blackwood (‘The Kit-Bag’).
But there are a few new names (or at least they are to me) to conjure with. Lennox Robinson gets the ball rolling with ‘A Pair of Muddy Shoes’, about the strange goings-on during a festive season spent in rural Ireland by a young teacher after he realises the room at his aunt’s house where he’s staying already has a guest…
I particularly enjoyed the next story, ‘Smee’ by AM Burrage, which involves a terrifying spin on hide-and-seek, and reminded me of The Christmas Party segment of the classic portmanteau horror movie Dead of Night.
Other delights include ‘Lucky’s Grove’, H Russell Wakefield’s tale about a tree that sets out to wreck one family’s festive season. There’s also an impressive entry from Ruth Rendell, who’s better known for her murder-mysteries, but in ‘The Bad Heart’ examines what happens when a wealthy businessman’s body seems to take revenge on him for sacking an employee.
It’s a strong selection, and I just have one minor quibble about it – I do wish Gayford (or the publisher, Profile Books) had included the years in which the titles were originally published so that the reader can understand better the context/era in which they were written.
‘The Dead of Winter: Ten Classic Tales for Chilling Nights’ is published by Profile Books