Dead of Winter is the bleakest collection of stories you’ll encounter during the holidays and darkest nights of the year.
The newest collection of short stories from author Kealan Patrick Burke revolve around Christmas time and snow fall in the most horrible and heartbreaking ways.
Right off the bat, in all seven stories, the sense of dread was heavy. The author wasn’t kidding when he said it was a grim read. There is no recess and no lightness in the collection. And it was absolutely delicious. This is most definitely a collection for the black hearts and fans of true horror endings, as there are no happy endings here. There’s a reoccurring exploration of guilt and grief throughout the book that was relentless at times. Burke toed the line between sob story and horror story nearly every page and it’ll leave you exhausted.
My favorite story from the collection was “Visitation Rights,” a ditty about a freshly divorced father spending Christmas with his reluctant daughters. As a child of divorce, I really sympathized with the guy and identified with the girls and their attitudes about the uncomfortable situation. But don’t forget that it’s horror; the sick stuff really hits at the perfect moment. A very, very fun read. “Home” was another that played a lot of mind games (so to speak) and had a punchy ending.
There’s a tasteful range of sub-genres, even with so few stories. Some shorts were more depressing than frightening, while others were sincerely creepy. The repetition of theme felt tedious, but the change of antagonist/ twist helped alleviate that. As odd as it may seem, I rather enjoyed reading about the strained romances and corrupted relationships of his characters. Not because it was an indulgence of dirty drama but because it was strikingly human. It felt incredibly private, almost like reading a diary. Problems with your parents, kids, or lovers are issues we all have to deal with at some point and this collection narrows in on the ugliest aspect of that responsibility.
Burke’s delivery is succinct and honest. He has the adept ability to describe snow in dozens of different ways without ever sounding stale, too. Given the length of each story, they were easily consumed, and the pacing didn’t get lost in the descriptions or dialogue, both of which were not dull.
Dead of Winter is an essential tome for fans of straight up holiday horror and fans of horror short fiction in general. I wished I would’ve had this on hand before Christmas to set the mood for my Goth-mas, so don’t mess up like I did. Both print and digital editions are available here. Be sure to follow Burke on social media (@kealanpatrick) and support his other smart works.