If you are anything like me then you grew up on westerns. It was almost a religion in my family; my grandfather loved Clint Eastwood and passed it onto my Dad who in turn passed it onto me and my siblings. I will do the same with my kids. Is two weeks old too young for A Few Dollars More? So imagine my surprise when I stumble across The Dead of Winter, the unholy love child of Clint Eastwood and Eric Kripke.
The Dead of Winter, the debut novel by author Lee Collins, is a film that takes the art of hunting supernatural creates, vampires, wendigo and the like, and puts it into the Wild West. The book set twelve years after the end of the American Civil War, stars Cora Oglesby and her husband Ben as they track and kill all manners of unnatural creatures in the American Frontier. When her latest case takes her to Leadville, Colorado in search of the origins of a pair of mysterious, bloody corpse in the badlands thing don’t go as she expected (when does it ever?). What starts out as a Wendigo hunt ends up as a mission to clear out a silver mine of vampires and eventually an all out duel to save the town.
Humans tracking and killing monsters has become something of its own genera in both TV and books. It’s a simple formula, you take a couple of mundane humans, train them to high hell (the Batman approach) and then pit them against creatures unknown and watch as the humans get tossed around and slammed into any wall possible. It’s what happens to the Winchesters, it’s what happens to Harry Dresden, and it’s what happens to Cora Oglesby. Lee Collins obviously draws very heavily from this genre; he calls his humans hunters, he gives them all similar weapons (enchanted blades, guns with silver bullets, and blessed items), and he even pits them against similar creatures. He even put his hunters into the Wild West, an idea proposed as a Supernatural spin-off, but this isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.
The Dead of Winter, the unholy love child of Clint Eastwood and Eric Kripke.
There is a saying that one of the reason people love fantasy and sci-fi is that, despite the small differences, it’s always the same. You have certain elements requires and you can expect certain aspects to surface. The same holds true for the Hunter genre. We know our hero will have to fight monsters, we know that they will have to seek religious help and we know that deep down in any hunter genre material that the core is always about the relationship between the main cast. Add this with the Western checklist of required events, terrorized by the war, a tough as nails sheriff who will stand up to a drunk posse one minute then defend them the next, a bar of whisky and cards, the sound of whores peddling their trade, and a epic final showdown, and you’ve got a good mix.
Our main character, Cora Oglesby, is what you’d expect from a female cowgirl hunter. She’s part Annie Oakley, part Dean Winchester with a dash of John Marston for seasoning. She wields a .38 colt peacemaker and a Winchester rifle. She is heavily armed, a skilled rider, a bit of a drunk and a kick ass card player. Ben is the religious book smart of the duo, his nose always in a book as he digs through lore on the creatures they hunt.
Part Annie Oakley, part Dean Winchester with a dash of John Marston for seasoning
Lee Collins does an excellent job of balancing the two separate genres, western and hunter, allowing for the shining element of each to shine without overtaking the other. What’s left is a jewel of a novel that reads like a Supernatural episode. It’s a smooth read, full of the western twang and the supernatural lore, and makes you long for more, be it the Supernatural Spin-off or a brilliant book like this.