I’m a fan of wintery, snow-blasted, icy horror stories. I try to read novels that fit the season because I’m a little OCD that way. In my mind, books are categorized as Spring/Summer novels, or Fall/Winter novels. When it comes to horror, there are few better settings than a snow-strewn landscape for out-and-out chills.
Now, there are lots of famous horror novels with wintry settings. Stephen King’s The Shining comes immediately to mind. Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, and Shelley’s Frankenstein aren’t far behind. However, unless you’re widely read or just a horror fan from way back, I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard of the best horror novel I read this year, The Well by Jack Cady. This is one hell of a chilling book, with a snowbound setting and enough genuine scares that it would be an unforgivable shame for it to be forgotten amidst the landslide of horror novels that came in later years. Cady’s 1980 novel The Well deserves to be a well-remembered classic.
In The Well, John Tracker returns to his boyhood home after years of estrangement from his family, a family with a long and strange occult past. This is no average boyhood home — it’s a sprawling mansion in the snowswept rolling hills and forests, a cold river winding through the nearby valley. It’s a house built by madmen and geniuses, added on to by generations of Trackers, and it’s built on top of a well … a well in which something sinister dwells. More than sinister — something diabolically evil. And it has seeped into the home over the years, into the walls, the air … and it knows John Tracker has returned.
John Tracker is a flawed man. He’s successful, but he’s also someone who is acutely aware of his own shortcomings. He’s actively coming to terms with himself and his past during the story, exploring grief and the reasons for his eventual leaving behind of his life in the twisted home of the Trackers that all the nearby locals fear and revere. The massive home through which he must journey once again to find out who, if any, of his family remains, is constructed with deadly traps and deceptions at every turn. It was built to thwart, contain, and ultimately control the evil presence in the well upon which it was built. This novel works on two levels — it is a compelling journey of self discovery and a chilling horror novel that is neither pretentious, nor ever loses sight of its primary goals.
The Well is amazing. Frought with atmosphere, it’s creepy, menacing, engrossing, and in places downright chilling. More than that, it’s an awesome dive into the psyche not only of the main character, but the strange and broken history of an entire family — all in about 250 pages. I was so impressed with this book that I immediately went online to see what else by him I could get my hands on. Stellar writing, amazing characterization, and a haunting story that resonates long after you finish it. Definitely recommended.
Before I sign off, there are a couple other cold-weather horror recommendations that I’d make. In keeping with books that are lesser known, I’d like to mention Dead White by Alan Ryan and The Island by T.M. Wright. In both of these cases, it has been a long time (20+ years) since I read them, but I still remember them as excellent cold weather horror tales. Dead White is one of four novels by Ryan published in the 1980s, and the second novel that takes place in his fictional town of Deacon’s Kill. It garnered high praise from all the giants of the genre, and deservedly so. The Island was my introduction to the work of T.M. Wright, and it really stood out from other work I was reading at the time because it really sought to be creepy above all else at a time when splatterpunk had shifted into high gear. I went on from The Island to read many other works by Wright, and I haven’t been disappointed by any of them.
As usual, none of the books I’ve recommended here are currently in print, but thanks to the wonders of the Interwebz, you can find them all cheap at that king of online retailers Amazon.com, ABE Books, or Alibris. For folks who’d like to check these out at Amazon, I’ve included some links below.
Anyone interested in following my book reviews is invited to join me on Goodreads. I might even read and review something something written this decade. Maybe. Happy winter reading!