Top critical review
"Midwinter" Has Its Doldrums
on May 20, 2002
Let me start by saying that I am a real fan of Phil Rickman--I think he writes better supernatural thrillers than anyone in the business, and it is a shame that he hasn't found a bigger audience in the U.S. However, I found Midwinter of the Spirit to be one of his weaker efforts. Granted, all of his usual strengths are displayed here. His characters are colorful and real, and the dialogue is richly idiosyncratic. Stylistically, he once again seems incapable of sounding a false note (and how many horror writers can one say that about?). The problem, as I see it, is in the structure. The book seems strangely "cinematic," in that Rickman has developed an infuriating habit of cutting to a new scene the moment he manages to build a bit of suspense, and thus momentum is always being lost. And even more important, the book is simply not as scary as most of his other books--there is nothing in this one that rivals the horrific thrills of say, Curfew, or Candlenight. There are two or three somewhat unsettling scenes (the attempted "deliverance" of Denzil Joy is a classic), but they are scattered far and wide, and divorced from any real narrative build, they do not have much of an impact. And finally, Rickman again commits the sin of which he is often guilty: too easily resolving the conflict that he has so laboriously built. So much is made of an impending church ceremony in which demonic forces might storm the portals and wreak havoc on earth, but when the ceremony finally arrives, the catastrophe is averted almost effortlessly: all it takes is the prayer of a dying priest and the unexpected kindness of a teenager. The effect of the quick and tidy resolution is that the evil seems to been overrated from the start, leaving this reader wondering why he spent so much time believing in it.
As I say, I admire Phil Rickman immensely, so I'm sure this book is just a bump in the road of his distinguished career. I'm reading A Crown of Lights right now, and I'm happy to say that it seems far more satisfying.