‘Chills’ – Kathy Ryan #1 by Mary SanGiovanni – this disappointed me.

It begins with a freak snowstorm in May. Hit hardest is the rural town of Colby, Connecticut. Schools and businesses are closed, powerlines are down, and police detective Jack Glazier has found a body in the snow. It appears to be the victim of a bizarre ritual murder. It won’t be the last. As the snow piles up, so do the sacrifices. Cut off from the rest of the world, Glazier teams up with Kathy Ryan, an occult crime specialist, to uncover a secret society hiding in their midst.

The gods they worship are unthinkable. The powers they summon are unstoppable. And the things they will do to the good people of Colby are utterly, horribly unspeakable . . 

I liked that ‘Chills’ opened with a cult having already carried out a ritual sacrifice to open a door between worlds and invite in the creatures who will clear the way for the arrival of the Elder Gods by killing everyone in the small town of Colby. This was a more interesting take than all those stories about someone trying to stop the cult before the door is opened and risking being seen as insane. The mutilated dead bodies splattered across the unseasonal snow provide convincing evidence that something strange is happening.

I also liked the creatures that had been sent to ‘cleanse the town of life’. They were original, well-imagined and very scary. I was impressed that there was more than one kind and by their relationship to the snow that is burying the town in the middle of May.

The midsection of the book had a lot of traditional horror scenes where one or more civilians find themselves in the path of the killer monsters while we were kept in suspense about if and how they might survive. There was a huge body count and a lot of slicing, dicing, bleeding, screaming and dying. Mary SanGiovanni did a good job in making the snow and the things that emerged from it menacing.

The main character, Kathy Ryan, the person the police call when a case involves cults or other weird things, has a well-thought-through traumatic background that I hadn’t seen used before.

So why did I finish this book disappointed and with no interest in reading the next Kathy Ryan book?

Firstly, Kathy Ryan doesn’t really come across as the main character. We see very little of the story from her point of view and even when we do, we don’t really get inside her head except as a convenient device for disclosing her traumatic backstory. It’s really hard to engage with a character when you are given almost no insight into how they feel about what is happening to them and to the people around them.

Secondly, it often felt as if Detective Glazier was the main character, which was a pity because he was so bland that I’m already starting to forget him. Did this story need to spend so much time on a divorced middle-aged detective who represses his emotions, is dogged and determined but not particularly talented and who never really figures out what’s going on? I kept waiting for us to move on to another character when we were following him around. And the way he reacted to his ex-wife being in danger did not endear him to me. On the other hand, he was so bland that there wasn’t enough there for me to build up a solid dislike of the man.

Then there was the dialogue. The purely functional, disclose-information or move-the-plot-along stuff went well enough but the interpersonal stuff needed work because the characters seemed to me to take turns giving speeches about how they felt rather than talking to each other. It didn’t help that the narrator’s delivery was flat and, apart from giving Tegan an unconvincing Irish accent, didn’t give the characters identifiable voices.

It was the ending that finally snuffed out my interest. I was sitting there thinking ‘We had all that build-up and all that death and all those truly scary monsters and THIS is how the situation resolves?’

Maybe I could have lived with the ending if the book had stopped when the action did but the last chapter or so was a return to normality that was stretched my suspension of disbelief much more than the idea of Elder Gods coming through a portal to a small town in the US did.

I read ‘Chills’ for the Ice Cold Fear square on my Halloween Bingo card.

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