If you’re in the mood for a creepy ghost story that provides plenty of chills, and who this time of year isn’t, then you might want to check out The Winter People. You may have the book. It’s on sale at a lot of the big box stores, such as Wal-Mart. Don’t let that stop you.
Set in the countryside near a small town in Vermont called West Hall, this is the story of Sara Harrison Shea, who died under mysterious circumstances 1908, not long after her daughter was found at the bottom of a well. Sara’s ghost is said to haunt the area, and she’s something of a local legend. Her secret diary has even been published.
Or what pieces people have been able to find of it. But don’t worry. The missing pieces are included here. Much of the story takes place in modern times and concerns 19 year old Ruthie. She lives off the grid with her mother and younger sister in what used to be Sara’s farmhouse. Ruthie returns home late one night to find the lights on and her mother missing. This isn’t typical of her mother, especially not in the dead of winter. While trying to find some clue about where her mother could have gone, Ruthie discovers a copy of Sara’s diary in a secret compartment of her mother’s room.
And then there’s Katherine, whose husband died in a car wreck coming home from West Hall after he told her he was going to be shooting photos of a wedding in Boston. She wants to know what he was doing there and why his camera bag is missing.
Things get more mysterious and creepy from there. McMahon handles the multiple viewpoint characters and time periods well. The ghost scenes are especially effective. (Sara isn’t the only ghost in the book, and in fact Sara’s ghost never appears except in reference to past events.) They’re told from Sara’s point of view, and McMahon introduces the possibility that she is going mad. Have the dead really returned, or is it all in her mind? You’re fairly certain the ghost she’s dealing with is real. But not entirely certain. There just enough ambiguity there to heighten the mystery.
I really liked the way the different storylines and character arcs merged. This is a complex historical ghost story in which the ghosts aren’t particularly friendly. There are plenty of secrets, including secret hiding places. Some of the things you think you know turn out to not be true in the end.
I really enjoyed The Winter People and will probably pick up another of Ms. McMahon’s books in the future. This is a solid ghost story of the scary variety. Perfect for the month of October.