(Jo Fletcher Books, 384pp, £7.99)
It seldom seems that a horror novel, a proper horror novel, gets any real mainstream attention. The inclusion of A Cold Season on the Richard and Judy Book Club list made me wonder a little. But Alison Littlewood’s writing has featured frequently in Black Static, and I know that she’s a gifted writer.
A Cold Season is merely confirmation of this.
The plot surrounds Cass and her son Ben, who move to the remote Yorkshire village where she grew up after the death of her husband in Afghanistan. The plan is to make a fresh start, but it all starts to shift away from Cass when snow seals off the village, and the strangeness of the locals starts to infect Ben.
This is a classic outsider horror. From the beginning it maintains a subtly creepy atmosphere of isolation, of not being part of the group, with the history, the geography and the community of Darnshaw blending into a single entity. There’s a subtle wrongness from the very start in all of the residents, which sets the reader on edge throughout.
And that’s what won it for me. From the start, I couldn’t tell you where the story was going. There was a growing sense of tension as the snow set in and as Cass became increasingly alone, but there was no real indication of where it was going. As it happened, the climax came out of left field, taking me by surprise but still fitting the story.
On a purely selfish note, I’m very glad that this novel was so good. With the wide attention it’s received, especially the aforementioned Richard and Judy Book Club, I’m hopeful that it will give the new wave of British horror exposure to a more mainstream audience. This can only be good for encouraging more publishers to embrace the genre.
Because Littlewood’s début novel is pure horror. It splits open the darkness inside the everyday, and examines it for our entertainment. At its core is parental relationships: Cass’ fears of losing Ben to whatever darkness is at the heart of Darnshaw; the broken and confused shards of her relationship with her father; and the ongoing hurt and confusion of a little boy whose daddy isn’t coming home again.
A Cold Season featuring no vampires, no werewolves, and no fairies. A Cold Season is a creeping, chilling, lingering horror story. And it’s rather excellent.