Start with the ending. A chilling finale with knife-twisting verve closes Christopher Golden's novel, the perfect send-off for readers exhausted by a blizzard of scarred lives and scared New Englanders.
Snowblind comes with the Good Housekeeping seal of horror and fantasy writing, in the form of glowing blurbs from Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. Golden justifies the heady praise with a story that hurtles headlong into terror while unraveling the hurt of lost children, lost loves and lost opportunities.
In many ways, this reads like a companion piece to King's best works: a small New England town fraught with mistrust and trepidation, as unspeakable events culminate in a dark and stormy night that should put the phrase "dark and stormy night" in permanent retirement.
Golden's setting is the town of Coventry, Mass., where a white-out snowstorm brought unexplained deaths to several children and adults, leaving devastated families behind. Twelve years later, another blizzard approaches, putting residents on edge as they await its arrival.
Jake Schapiro, a 24-year-old crime scene photographer, remains haunted by the death of his then-10-year-old brother, Isaac, in the earlier storm. Jake watched ice ghosts attack Isaac, snatching Isaac through a bedroom window and killing him with a precipitous drop.
"Frozen fingers clutched at him, cut his skin, turned his bones to rigid ice, and then they pulled," Golden writes. "Isaac hit the screen face-first, his arms coming after. His back scraped the underside of the open window and he flailed his arms, trying to grab hold. A hand grabbed his ankle and only then did he hear the screaming. His own voice and his brother's."
Jake's mother, Allie, lost both Isaac and her boyfriend the night of the first blizzard. A police detective obsesses over a father and two boys he failed to save the same night — and vows to rescue another imperiled child as the next mammoth snowstorm moves in 12 years later.
Then, too, there is Doug Manning, a struggling blue-collar guy whose burglaries blossom into visions of a final, triumphant heist during the peak of the storm's fury.
Readers will recognize and identify with these characters and Coventry itself.
Need more convincing? Step inside The Vault. You know, the eclectic restaurant in town owned by a pretty young entrepreneur named Ella. She falls for TJ, the scruffy guy who strums his acoustic guitar for the customers even when only a handful of people are in the restaurant. Are TJ and Ella struggling with a rocky marriage and an 11-year-old daughter who seems to be going through more than just adolescent rebellion? Why, yes they are.
Throw in some ghostly soul-stealing and a healthy dose of paranoia and suspicion and you've got a delicious winter cocktail.
Much like King, Golden's horror puts ordinary people into extraordinary situations. The ghosts of memory haunt these characters as much as whatever winter ghosts float through Coventry.
Juxtaposing the reactions of encountering the supernatural — Am I losing my mind? Is this a breakdown? — with the quotidian pays dividends for author and reader alike. It's a trait King, among others, has perfected.
Dropping in a New England Patriots T-shirt, a favorite craft beer and an assortment of other vanities and resentments (long-simmering jealousy directed at the wealthiest families in town, check) creates a verisimilitude that helps keep the story moving at a brisk clip.
Golden develops his characters and his story but avoids excess. Snowblind checks in at a little more than 300 pages and delivers the goods all the way. In other words, a perfect read for a quiet winter weekend.
And, of course, a parting shot that will leave readers shaking their heads long after finishing the last page.