West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
Parts of this book are wonderful – the writing is evocative, immersing and skilful; the characterisation is, on the whole, beautifully done, and it is chilling and gripping. Ruthie and Fawn are engaging and empathetic and the mystery of their mother’s disappearance is cleverly interwoven with the haunting story of Sara Harrison Shea. Sara’s grief at the loss of her daughter is raw and honest and does make you think how far you would go and what you would do to save the ones you love, whatever the consequences.
My issue with this novel though is that I just didn’t believe in the motivation of one of the characters – a character whose actions are responsible for the tragedy at the heart of this book. It’s difficult to be more detailed without giving too much away, but I was left thinking, why did they do that? They cared about Sara, loved her, so why do what they did? It just didn’t ring true. Yes, a reason was given, an event that happened that was supposed to drive this particular character, but for me it wasn’t enough of a motivation. This ruined the whole novel for me unfortunately, which is a real shame because the writing is wonderful, the atmosphere and the setting beautifully drawn. So disappointing that the plot falls short.
I think you put your finger on something important (if I’m thinking of the same character/motivation). For such a heinous crime, it didn’t seem merited. Perhaps that undercut a bit of the scariness for me. Because good (or at least plausible) motivations can be the scariest.
Here’s my review if you’re interested: https://leviathanbound.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/the-winter-people/
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That was such a sticking point for me with this book and it was such a shame because, as I say, the writing is really excellent. Enjoyed your review btw – winter is definitely a time for staying in and reading 🙂
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