A Classic Setup with Matthew Iden
Like any genre of literature, thrillers and murder mysteries have inevitably developed various archetypes that have been reproduced throughout the ages, with many authors trying to add some new twist, a novel element that would raise the bar just a bit higher. In truth, said archetypes persist because we consistently enjoy them and the versatility they bring to the stories; sometimes we seek innovation, but in other cases we just want a classic mix of ingredients we know we are going to enjoy… and that’s precisely what Matthew Iden offers us with The Winter Over.
I think we all remember the classic murder mysteries we’ve been introduced to over the years, mixing together fear, isolation, paranoia, and a murder amongst a group of people who can’t go anywhere. A simple combination, yet one that has given rise to innumerable timeless classics, including the immortal And Then There Were None. Once again the concept shows its worth as Iden crafts an engaging mystery set amidst the cold blizzards of the South Pole.
Blood on the Snow
In The Winter Over, we are introduced to Cass Jennings, our protagonist for the whole ordeal. She is a mechanical engineer who took on this assignment (which entails nine months of isolation on the research base) to try and distance herself from her life in the outside world and start rebuilding anew. Unfortunately, her plans are put on hold, if not derailed, as a murder takes place in their midst, none wiser as to who the killer might be. From that moment on, nothing is the same as any one of the forty-four crew members may be the guilty party. Cass may not exactly be a detective with supernatural deductive skills, but nevertheless she forges on towards the one thing all heroes covet: the truth.
Master of Immersion
To begin with, I have to examine the story from a technical viewpoint because Iden’s writing prowess is second to none. He is without a doubt one of the most fluent writers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, with one sentence flowing seamlessly into the next no matter the length or complexity of the words used. He has an extremely good understanding of pacing in his sentences and knows what words to use in order to evoke the most vivid and accurate imagery in the reader’s mind. There is never any doubt or confusion as to what he’s talking about at any given moment, nor does he waste any space on unnecessary fluff.
His excellent wordsmithing talents inevitably translate into an ability to create unique, memorable and fleshed-out personalities that populate a mesmerizingly-detailed world. While our heroine has internal complexities that stem from struggles with her past, we never get a sense that she is ultimately defined by these things. Rather, she is very likable, capable, with some interesting thoughts to share here and there. She’s definitely the kind of protagonist in whose shoes you can step in without any hint of a problem. As for the other characters, whether they be major or minor they still benefit from descriptions adequately matching their importance in the story. We get to know everyone about as well as we would like to, and the major players all have some unique and curious features that make them stand out in believable ways.
A Few Holes in the Boat
Now, let’s move on and discuss the plot itself. Things begin a bit slowly as Iden takes his time to build the world and populate it, showering us with vivid, detailed, and at times breathtaking descriptions. Slowly but surely, the plot starts to pick up, drawing you in bit by bit until you’re in the eye of the hurricane. The senses of mystery, danger and urgency grow stronger and stronger as you get towards the end, continuously building up the reader’s expectations for when the time comes to unravel the whole web of intrigue. Unfortunately, it’s the point where the book begins to falter.
As you get to perhaps the last 15 to 20 percent of the book, the plot starts to weaken and you get the impression that Iden had to rush his craft for whatever reason. The plot loses some of its credibility as events start to get stretched and twisted to fit into the narrative and things start to line up a bit too conveniently, with things appearing or reappearing in the most fitting times. There were even a couple of errors that seemed to stem from inattention or bad editing, as is the case in a passage where the night is described simultaneously as being pitch-black and lit by the full-moon, with a miraculously-undetected campfire nearby. Finally, without spoiling the story the ending feels like a bit of a cop-out in a sense as the main villain is exposed through carelessness rather than anyone’s efforts, which is honestly disappointing considering how hypnotizing the mystery was until then.
Is it Still Worth Reading?
Taking everything into consideration, I believe that despite the various faults found in the book’s ending, it’s still very much worth your time if you enjoy murder mysteries with a classic type of setup. For the most part, the book remains incredibly well-written with the kind of eloquence that eclipses the plot holes that come about at the end. The resolution is still well within the realms of the logical and I believe it would be best described as an average way to top off a sensational story. If you are capable of suspending your disbelief and can find it in yourself to forgive the author for being less than perfect, then I strongly recommend you find some room in your schedule for The Winter Over.