I should declare that I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher. If I hadn't enjoyed it, I wouldn't, though, be reviewing it - Alison Littlewood's first novel is an assured piece of horror writing.
At one level, it is a simple story - Cass and her son Ben are newcomers to the remote town of Darnshaw, under Saddleworth Moor. They are soon cut off, snowed in and with no working phone or Internet (crucial for Cass's web design business). The locals are an unfriendly bunch (there is perhaps a hint of Royston Vasey here, with one farmer refusing to sell eggs except to locals - enough to raise a smile but not to break the tension). Something evil is definitely stirring - how will Cass survive as things begin to turn nasty? What can she do to protect her son?
Underneath, though, it's a bit more complicated. Cass has lived in Darnshaw before, indeed, it's where, as a child, her father abandoned her (as she sees it) for the Church. She was never, she thinks, good enough for him. Also missing is Ben's father, Pete - but very much present is the seductive new teacher, Theo Remick, another newcomer to the town, who becomes Cass's ally against the more hostile of the locals. Each of these men has had, or will have, an impact on her, and it is only towards the end of the book that she begins to establish her reality apart from them. Cass's vulnerability comes across very well, as the snow falls and Ben grows into a stranger.
With a story like this there's a danger that because we, as readers, know that something is going on, we become impatient with the protagonist for not twigging what's happening, making plans and facing up to the threat, so losing sympathy with them. There's none of that here. There is a sense of menace from the very start - that journey across the moor - but Littlewood very deftly makes clear that Cass is aware of it but that she attributes her growing unease to her feelings for the missing Pete, to Ben's missing his father, to unhappy childhood memories of Darnshaw, and so on. As a result, she is a very believable, and sympathetic, character.
The book is compelling, with the white, wintry landscape reflecting Cass's increasing emptiness, and it comes to a powerful, though ambiguous, conclusion. By the end we feel that Cass is much more in charge of things - but it's not clear just what she has had to give up to get there, nor exactly how her relationships with those three men who dominated her life will have changed.
I had a definite sense of a sequel coming. I do hope so.