A Cold Season

by Alison Littlewood

Reviewed by Adam Armstrong

As parents we have both rational and irrational fears that crop up all the time. We set forth to do what we believe is best. But we don't intentionally put our children at risk. And unlike the protagonist, Cass, we generally avoid risking our children's safety over something as silly as work. 

Cass and her son Ben are moving to her childhood town of Darnshaw to start over after losing Pete, Cass's husband and Ben's Father. Cass has one good memory followed by nothing but bad memories about Darnshaw and yet she wants to expose her child to this. Mother and son move into a mill converted to an apartment building. Upon arriving they find that they are the only ones living there. Not only that, the apartment under theirs isn't finished being constructed and there is a hole where the window should be letting all the elements in. I'm not sure how things are built in the UK but I really doubt anyone would construct a building like this, completely finish and furnish the upper floor and leave the lower floor exposed to the elements.

A tremendous snowfall comes in knocking out phones lines, the internet, and cellphone service, but not the power oddly enough. Cass has to walk Ben to his new school. When they arrive they find that his teacher is sick and has been replaced by Theo Remick. Cass finds herself drawn to Remick. And thus begins many pages about walking in the snow and silly foreshadowing about the bad guy. I'm all for setting up an atmosphere of foreboding, but I think it can be handled a lot better than just beating the reader over the head with lots of snow and lots of walking in it.

Ben begins to pull away from his mother, being despondent at times and downright horrible at others. Though Cass sees that many other children in the village are terrible little brats, not to mention their parents behaving equally poorly, she allows her son to hang out with them. Anytime she tries to take her son away from everything it all boils down to him saying he won't go and her agreeing. In fact, when Cass finds out that some of the people of the village aren't just bad people but evil people, she still allows her son to stay with them so she can get work done. 

As we round the corner into the third act the novel completely falls apart. People that were thought dead show up and it seems acceptable to the characters. Estranged and hated family members are welcomed back into the fold because it is convenient to the plot. The bad guy, who is the ultimate bad guy, is defeated with little more than a tackle. There seems to be a sappy they lived "happily ever after" ending that is ruined with a twist so poor that it makes even the worst Twilight Zone episode look good by comparison. 

There are a lot of things wrong here and not many saving graces. Littlewood isn't a terrible writer but the plot is riddled with holes along with having a big old case of boring thrown all over it. I kept waiting for some sort of explanation to some of the more glaring holes. If an entire village is evil except for three people, why bother hiding it from those three people? Why are cellphones not working because of a snowstorm that didn't even knock the power out? If an entire town is secluded because of the weather, can't the authorities send in some help? Some of this could be explained better if the novel took place a few decades ago but it takes place in the present. 

Perhaps Littlewood's next novel should focus more on the characters and less on the setting. Give this one a pass unless you really like reading about snow and walking.