Baltimoreans may be tired of winter, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading Jennifer McMahon’s latest book, The Winter People, a ghostly tale of smalltown legends and entangled tragic family history. West Hall, Vermont, has always been a locus of strange sightings and disappearances. Many of the local legends feature Sara Harrison Shea, a farmer’s wife who in 1908 was found dead shortly after her daughter’s sudden death. The tragedies of the Shea family perpetuated rumors of curses and other odd occurrences that continue to resonate in the town.
In present day, Ruthie, whose family lives “off the grid” in the old Shea farmhouse, is puzzling over the disappearance of her mother and has just discovered an old copy of Sara’s diary hidden in the farmhouse. Katherine, a Boston transplant who moved to West Hall after the deaths of both her son and husband, comes across a copy of the same diary in her husband’s belongings. Slowly, through the chapters that alternate among Sara’s, Ruthie’s and Katherine’s stories, the mystery comes to light, and the shadowy links between all the characters are revealed.
McMahon spins an intriguing and unique story with smart, resourceful characters and whispers of old magic and ghosts. Love and strong familial bonds are at the heart of all three stories, making this a good pick for anyone who likes family sagas as well as mysteries. As each new layer is revealed, readers will be further drawn into the enigmatic world of West Hall and its dark history. Although the story is not overburdened with descriptive details, a harsh early 20th century farming existence and an artsy present-day New England town are skillfully conveyed. In fact, McMahon does such an exceptional job penning a New England winter landscape that you are bound to feel the chill of frozen Vermont while reading. Best to read in front of a fire – or someplace with warm weather if you’re lucky!