Ghosts Walking in Vermont: The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon


Doubleday, 2014

ISBN 0385538499 (ISBN13: 9780385538497)

Part of the Mysteries from Every State Reading Challenge

Winter People coverWhile this book had potential, it fell kind of flat from the outset. Its dual timelines follow the residents of an old farmhouse near a rock formation known as the Devil’s Hand, near the small town of West Hall, Vermont. The first, taking place in 1908, details the last days of Sarah Harrison, before her gruesome death a few days after the death of her daughter, Gertie. The second timeline deals with the modern-day lives of former-hippie Alice and her two daughters, Ruthie and Fawn. It opens with an entry in Sarah’s journal and the disappearance of Alice. The reader is led to believe that somehow these events are connected.

The title, “winter people” comes from the name Sarah gives ghosts,

“The people who are stuck between here and there, waiting. It reminds me of winter, how everything is all pale and cold and full of nothing, and all you can do is wait for spring.”

I guess it was interesting how someone used to the cold and long Vermont winters associates winter with being dead.

The Auntie character, an Indian woman whose family was from Quebec and takes care of Sarah as a child, was an interesting addition, giving a bit of cultural background to the book. Auntie was self-sufficient, an accomplished trapper and hunter, as well as a medicine woman whose reputation as a healer was known in the area. However, despite the rich background and raw material available for the character, the Auntie character is flat and one-dimensional.

The reason I didn’t like the book was perhaps because it lacked depth and sophistication. For example, at one point, Ruthie finds that her mom has hidden Sarah’s journal,

“Weird,” Ruthie said. “Why hide a book?”

I don’t know, ever heard of the Inquisition or Nazi book burning? No? Perhaps just owning a book that you may want to keep private? Maybe you stole it?

Anyway, I would think these should be questions an editor should be asking, because for some reason, as a reader, this question really annoyed me and sounded a bit like something you would hear at an elementary school play.

I guess I just found the book completely un-relatable, and then the fact that some of the characters ride a Harley… I don’t mean to alienate anyone, but as someone who lives in DC and is always here during Rolling Thunder, I can’t say I’m a fan of Harley riders or that I feel that I have a lot in common with people who live the whole “Harley lifestyle.” Not that I’m judging or anything, but I simply have not had the chance to meet any Harley riders other than those who blast by my bedroom window in a ceaseless procession from the beginning of Memorial Day weekend until the bitter, sleepless end. Granted, maybe we could invest in better windows…

Go back to the Mysteries from Every State Reading Challenge

Go Back to Book Reviews