I love genre mashups. One of the huge advantages of having the interwebs is that it creates pockets for sub-sub genres, allowing writers who normally would be shut out by not fitting into a publisher’s clearly defined genre box get to find and connect with whole networks of adventurous souls no longer satisfied with those conventions. The latest of these is Lee Collins’ The Dead of Winter.
The tag line both hooked me and worried me. Normally I see a like like that and think of the opening of the movie The Player, where everyone in Hollywood pitches projects using this same shorthand convention. And while the book has neither the weight of True Grit nor the lunacy of True Blood, the tag line worked for me. It’s certainly not a precise description, but it frames your expectations nicely, allowing Collins to then exceed them with a skillful mix of Horror and Western. Cora Oglesby is a great heroine, in that fine tradition of hard edged badasses you don’t want to be on the wrong side of. She’s a gun for hire, traveling the post Civil War boom towns of the West with her husband Ben, hunting down whatever supernatural creatures are preying on the settlers clinging to their hopes of Manifest Destiny.
The pacing is slower, more in keeping with Westerns, but Collins is very effective at using that pace to also build tension around the Horror elements. The dialogue is sharp, particularly Cora’s exchanges with Townsend, an English vampire hunter. He also does a strong job painting the relationship between Cora and Ben, which has some interesting twists.
Overall, this is a strong debut from Lee Collins. I got the sense that he found his legs as a writer as the story went on. The beginning was interesting, but felt a little too measured. As the story progressed it definitely built up steam and, by the end, I was hooked. The next Cora Oglesby novel is due early next year, and I will definitely be picking it up.