Review – “Winter Freits” by Andrew David Barker (2019)

I recently reviewed Dan Coxon’s great little horror micro-anthology from Black Shuck books, Green Fingers. Impressed, I took a punt on another from their “Shadows” series. There are 21 at time of writing, but there’s little information on their website to allow you to choose one over another, other than cover art (their jacket design is uniformly excellent) and story titles. It was, in the middle of what passes for a heatwave in the east of Scotland, the cover image of a snowflake that drew me to Winter Freits.

There are three stories in this 113-page pocket-size collection. Freit is a Scots word for a bad omen, and, pleasingly, also a homophone for “frights”. Was I frightened?

The first tale is “Polar Vortex” which I have to say, I didn’t enjoy but that’s entirely a matter of personal taste: an anonymous narrator wakes up and doesn’t know who they are, other than that they’re in the far north, just outside a hut, and badly injured. The ingredients are all there, but I struggled to connect with the narrator’s plight: “who am I?” narratives need to work extra hard to trigger empathy so a reader is emotionally involved, but “Polar Vortex” just left me cold (sorry).

Next comes “The House on Lidderman Street”, a pleasingly nasty little revenge tale. As if telling an anecdote down the pub, the narrator recalls his first job as a brickie’s labourer where he had to workfor a bullying boss and equally unpleasant colleagues. He is set to work painting a run-down house in the middle of winter, without heating or drinking water. What he does have, though, is spectral company. There’s a key moment of existential crisis which works better than “Polar Vortex” and is done in the sparest manner possible: “I wondered who I was. I was confused about my nature. My proclivities”.

The final, and best, story, is “Christopher”. Daniel and Carol’s marriage is faltering, and Daniel has recently attempted suicide for reasons we don’t at first know. Their old school is being demolished, and they go for a final farewell visit with their friend Lee. The ghost that haunts the empty, doomed corridors and stairwells is from a much more recent past than their schooldays and the story builds to a truly shocking, bleak climax.

Winter Freits got better the further I read. I’m glad I bought it, and will happily read more from Barker and Black Shuck in future.

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