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After the Winter Paperback – 25 Aug 2017
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"After the Winter has a nicely complicated, sinister plot, a gothic setting, romantic entanglements and some ambiguous characters..." -- Joan Barfoot, London Free Press and Postmedia
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
An excellent debut!
The isolated snowed-in house in the winter countryside and inhabited by an assorted group of relative strangers is certainly a standard setting in mystery fiction and especially the Christmas mystery sub-genre, but Dowdall doesn’t go down any stereotypical “And Then There Were None” plotlines here. There are certainly nods to Agatha Christie with a Tommy & Tuppence reference and to Daphne du Maurier with a copy of “Rebecca” on site.
This was an impressive first outing which showed a lot of originality and cleverness. There was even a sub-plot that I was beginning to be sure had been forgotten along the way and that was actually paid off in the final few pages. That to me is one of the hallmarks of good writing, that the writer pays off all the plotlines regardless of how small and niggling they might be. Think of the times you've been disappointed when that didn't happen.
One of the mysteries is why is the book set in 1999 going into 2000 and no one is fretting about the Y2K virus or listening to Prince songs? It does serve to reduce the technology available to the characters which perhaps helps to prolong the sleuthing. But once you find out that “After the Winter” is actually a prequel to a series that Dowdall is calling “The Ashley Smeeton Files,” it all becomes clear. The Ashley Smeeton character has only several brief cameos here as a budding Nancy Drew inspired child detective, but she will adopt a more central role in future books when she is much older.
Is it fair to share some criticisms as well? More of a series of observations really. The protagonist Sally Ryder seemed at times like an odd mash-up of slacker millennial and maiden aunt. She is 23 years old and didn’t complete a Bachelor of Arts degree but reads Bertrand Russell's "The ABC of Relativity” and drinks Oloroso sherry. Admittedly, the first was for insomnia and the latter might have been all that was available. Still, it was quirky.
Dowdall does use a sprinkling of what would have been called Ten Dollar Words in my day. e.g. debouched, locum, penumbra, camber, truculently, lugubriously, syllabub, etc. Enough of them that I started to mark them and look them up in order to be sure of the meaning.
The same thing with some Gallicisms (or should they be called Québécoisisms?) e.g. "quincaillerie", "garagiste", "la chose n’était pas correcte", "macédoine" etc, which were usually understandable in context, but which I still felt compelled to double-check.
Several times I found myself baffled with the descriptions of women's clothing where the individual words were known to me, but the combination was a mystery e.g. "bugle-beaded D’Orsay silk pumps," & "wool crepe in eau de nil green."
All of these are more of a comment on my lack of knowledge than on Dowdall's writing, but it did seem a cut above standard romance/mystery fiction writing i.e. more well read by the writer and more demanding of the reader. So really it is an extra challenge and not a downside at all.
Happily, the next in the Ashley Smeeton files is already due in October 2017 with “The Au Pair.” I look forward to it and further adventures.
I’ve always been a fan of this type of fiction. Big mansions with long, dark halls, old letters buried inside creaky trunks, unexplained deaths, and family secrets—lots of them. Add to the mix a heroine trying to make sense of it all and a shocking ending, and I’m in heaven. It’s no surprise then that I would be so excited to discover After the Winter (an added bonus is that the novel takes place in the winter of 1999—one of the most memorable years of my life, and a time seldom explored in fiction).
The novel begins with a letter exposing a secret, a lie. This immediately drew me in—as did the title of chapter one: Every One of Us Has Secrets. You know a story is going to be good when you don’t know what people are hiding or whom you can trust. The setting was a character in itself. I could perfectly envision those roads covered in snow, the icy bridge, and those end-of-the-year parties held at Midwinter, the elegant mansion at the center of the story. The romantic entanglements were always entertaining, particularly the heroine’s first kiss with the hero.
As a fan of Daphne du Maurier, Charlotte Bronte, Cornell Woolrich, and film noir in general, this novel did not disappoint. Once you think you’ve figured out the novel’s main mystery, there’s another one that comes along, and then another. Someone mentioned that this book was like a perfect mix between Daphne du Maurier and Agatha Christie. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been hoping for a long time for the comeback of gothic fiction and I think this novel is a good start. I can’t wait to read more from this author!