Review: “Chills,” Mary SanGiovanni

Pros: Wonderful icy horror!
Cons: Some interminable monologues; one obvious bad guy
Rating: 4 out of 5

A friend wrote a nice review of Mary SanGiovanni’s horror novel Chills, and I decided I had to give it a read. I’m so glad I did. Detectives Jack Glazier, Oliver Morris, and Reece Teagan, together with occult consultant Kathy Ryan, are charged with investigating a ritualistic homicide. It’s clear that in this reality, while most occult things are seen as superstition, they’re taken a bit more seriously than they are in the ‘real’ world. The town of Colby, Connecticut is experiencing a freak snowstorm in the middle of May, when they should be preparing for summer. As the bodies start adding up–much faster than one might think–it becomes clear that the snow is more than just snow. It’s a part of a cleansing that’s preparing the way for something much greater as the Hand of the Black Stars cult opens a forbidden doorway. Can Ryan and her colleagues avert the end of the world–and save Colby?

The detectives spend some time trying to find the cultists, and the identity of one bad guy is too obvious; there needed to be a few more side characters to obscure their identity. The other problem I had is that there are some overly-long monologues–one in dialogue, and several in the narrative. Particularly later on, when the pace should be picking up rather than slowing down. Most of the pacing is great, however, so it isn’t a huge problem.

SanGiovanni manages to create creepy, scary monsters that can show up in numbers without becoming too mundane. They’re Lovecraftian in feel but uniquely wintry in execution.

There was nothing alive as far as she could see, except for her…and the giant creature scaling the side of the hospital’s mental health ward in the moonlight.
“Oh fuck no,” she whispered.

There are bodies aplenty. We get to see quite a few of the deaths first-hand, building the tension up as the town’s population dwindles exceptionally quickly. Winter manages to be a setting, a weapon, and very nearly a character as well, with a mind of its own and death on its mind. I love the fact that the bad guys’ ritual is something very difficult, that they’ve tried before and failed at, that can easily go wrong and requires luck as well as hard work. This is not typical for most such stories. I also like the fact that while the good guys could simply rely on throwing off that ritual and it might be easier than finding a counterspell, that’s likely to cause grave repercussions that could cause additional problems. This gives the good guys plenty of reason to do their research, question their informants, and get it right.

There was a lot of blood, but there was more snow.

Chills was successful enough that I immediately bought Behind the Door, another Kathy Ryan book by Mary SanGiovanni. I plan to start reading it as soon as I’ve finished writing this review. I’m looking forward to reading more about this rather scary version of the world!

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