After the death of his mother, Michael Vyner is forced to spend Christmas with a strange man he barely knows who has vowed to be his guardian. A man who saved his father’s life once. Taken away from everything that he has ever known, Michael finds himself in a very strange house in East Anglia. He knows something isn’t right when he sees a strange woman alone in the marshes on a freezing cold night. His companion for the journey puts Michael’s vision down to exhaustion and grief but Michael knows what he saw was really there, even if no one else believes him.
After arriving at his new home for the season, Michael’s suspicions grow stronger. He is kept away from his new guardian, who is apparently extremely ill but none of the staff will say much about what is wrong. Forced to spend most of his time alone and with little conversation, Michael takes it upon himself to explore but he finds so much more than he bargained for.
This is Michael Vyner’s story of the events that have haunted him for the rest of his life.
What I thought
I really wasn’t sure what to expect before reading this book. I have never read a horror book before so I was quite apprehensive about what I was going to think.
Michael was a very interesting character because you never really know that much about him. At the beginning of the story, his mother has just died and we soon find out that his father is also dead. Even though his past is explained somewhat, nothing about Michael’s character or personality is explained. I really didn’t mind this though as it added to the mystery of the story. It was very strange that nothing much is ever revealed about him. Instead, the story focuses more on the house and its residents rather than someone’s personality which doesn’t make a difference to the plot.
I found this book a little hard to get into as it is unlike anything else I have read before and it is quite slow starting. There is a fair amount of build up to the time when Michael finally goes to Hawton Mere, the house in the countryside. As soon as Michael’s story began to unravel and the eeriness of the house became apparent, I was hooked. The first strange happening is Michael seeing a woman in the moors on a freezing cold night but no one else sees her. I instantly began thinking was she a spirit or was she just a figment of his imagination?
As the story continues, it gets even stranger. There is a lot happening around Hawton Mere but it only seems like Michael is the one experiencing it. The world that Chris Priestley created was so vivid to me that I could imagine myself walking through the corridors or being sat in the dining room not speaking to anyone. The whole story is extremely descriptive, which is why I thought it was so creepy. Instead of the horror being obvious and physical, Priestley gives us the chance to use our imaginations. There are things that go bump in the night that you don’t see and a lot of other things that are unexplainable at the time. The power of suggestion is a strong thing when it comes to horror and I found this book quite scary because of that.
The whole way through reading The Dead of Winter, I was trying to put each clue together to try to figure out what the house’s big secret was. I really would never have guessed the ending on my own but as the story approached the end, I found myself remembering little details from earlier on that helped me piece everything together. I couldn’t wait to find out if my suspicions were correct and what would eventually become of Michael. The ending really ties everything up nicely and I felt like I could put this book down and be at peace with everything that had happened.
After reading this book, I will definitely be wanting to read more horror. I didn’t think I scared that easily, not when it comes to films anyway but this book actually gave me nightmares. Having the flat all to myself and reading at 1am probably wasn’t the best idea though. The Dead of Winter was thoroughly chilling and haunting. I couldn’t put it down!