Published by Severed Press on March 12, 2018
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Psychological Horror, Sci-Fi, Suspense, Thriller
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In 1959, nine Russian students set off on a skiing expedition in the Ural Mountains. Their mutilated bodies were discovered weeks later. Their bizarre and unexplained deaths are one of the most enduring true mysteries of our time.
Nearly sixty years later, podcast host Nat McPherson ventures into the same mountains with her team, determined to finally solve the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Her plans are thwarted on the first night, when two trackers from her group are brutally slaughtered.
The team’s guide, a superstitious man from a neighboring village, blames the killings on yetis, but no one believes him. As members of Nat’s team die one by one, she must figure out if there’s a murderer in their midst—or something even worse—before history repeats itself and her group becomes another casualty of the infamous Dead Mountain.
RETURN TO DYATLOV PASS, by J.H. Moncrieff, is an incredibly realistic historical-fiction, horror novel. The basis for this is the 1959 “Dyatlov Pass incident”–a true, unsolved mystery in which nine Russian skiers died in the Ural Mountains. Their bodies were found weeks later, inexplicably mutilated, and their deaths were never explained . . .
“That story has always bugged me. Did you know it’s been almost sixty years, and they still have no idea what happened to those people? . . . “
Nat McPherson, along with her producer, Andrew, are about to delve into the mystery in order to bring something “real” to their supernatural podcast, “Nat’s Mysterious World”. Moncrieff starts out immediately by setting up a strong sense of rapport with her characters. The carefree banter and familiarity these two main characters share instantly shows us the deep bond between them. In my opinion, this is much more telling and effective than simply narrating: “these two are close friends”.
“. . . If you’re going to risk your life, at least find some nice possessed girl no one else has discovered yet.”
After training and assembling a competent crew of their own, Nat and Andy are on their way to “. . . Kholat Syakhl, the infamous Dead Mountain . . . “ . Once they arrive there, the imagery and culture momentarily take over our senses.
“. . . Having doubts means I’m of sound mental health . . . “
Moncrieff has a great talent when it comes to making the reader feel as though they were physically present in each environment she takes them to with her writing. Through the gestures, actions, and comments of her characters, I felt as if I were literally shivering along with them on those snow covered mountains.
“. . . some places are just plain bad . . . I’m willing to bet the reason it’s called Dead Mountain has nothing to do with the lack of game. People die here.”
The hostile atmosphere is augmented by the vastly different personalities–and level of experience–of each individual involved.
“. . . My usual exercise is running my mouth . . . “
By the time the team sets out together, the tension has already begun to mount exponentially.
“. . . Human beings are extremely self-centered. We have no concern for anything but ourselves . . . “
What happens to this team is very much the author’s own story–and I loved each and every anxiety-riddled moment of it. There were times where I was nearly gasping in surprise, and then others that had me laughing aloud at the comic-laced sarcasm used to lighten things up along the way.
“‘We’ll die if we get trapped on the side of the mountain in a blizzard . . . ‘ As usual, the mountaineer was brimming with optimism.”
In a novel like this, the comedic interludes made a great way to momentarily lighten the rising tension. I’ve always appreciated an author who has the ability to use that tactic effectively. In addition to giving the terror a brief “pause”, it also conveys to the reader a sense of more intimately understanding a character’s mindset and overall personality.
“Clearly, they’d have to work on their telepathy if they ever got out of this mess.”
Moncrieff begins with a real life mystery, and creates a unique story of her own from those kernels of fact. Near the end, I had about half a dozen possible scenarios for the ending in my mind.
I was absolutely thrilled when not one of them even came close.
“. . . Ignorance was most definitely bliss, but it was also a luxury she couldn’t afford.”
Overall, an effective horror novel on many levels. We have realistic characters you can emphasize with, an incredible atmosphere that you can practically “feel”, witty dialog, and a vivid, imaginative journey-turned-nightmare to traverse. All said, a highly impressive tale that is a strong contender for my “Best Reads of 2018” list.