Colder than Hell by Anthony Neil Smith is the sixteenth installment of the popular Dead Man series originally created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. There is no contrived effort to tell the reader he or she is supposed to be scared here. Well outside Smith’s crime novel wheelhouse of bad people doing bad things, this quick story keeps the reader guessing from start to finish when the next scare will come.
Axe wielding hero Matt Cahill finds himself stuck on the interstate leading into Fargo, North Dakota during a traffic snarling snow storm. Not only does he have to worry about the mysterious Mr. Dark (of previous Dead Man volumes), this time around he stumbles upon a bizarre virus spreading amongst the stranded motorists turning them into zombies. These are not the typical flesh eating blood slurping monsters. No, the infected simply lose their minds, stagger around in a stupor claiming to be in search of what they “need.” No stranger to dealing with the undead, it’s up to Matt to find out what they are searching for before the virus spreads beyond the cacophony of the snowbound highway.
Colder than Hell is not just another chapter in The Dead Man series. By leaving his noir stamp of stylish mystery, Smith has made this story much more. The author’s strength in creating compelling characters with flaws from real people with real lives and real problems makes all the other mystic and horrific elements seem genuine. This natural story telling ability allows the reader to experience the action without being reminded it is just a book.
Before reading, be sure to stoke the fireplace, grab an extra blanket and have a steaming cup of coffee handy. The chill coming from the pages is not only from the horrific plot, but the precise imagery of being stranded along the cold highway. If the reader has ever been stuck in a traffic jam, the memories will come to life as the feeling of being stranded, helpless, and closed off from the “civilized” world emerges.
A series called The Dead Man is supposed to scare the reader. We get that. We also know people in general are messed up and real characters have flaws. With Colder than Hell, Anthony Neil Smith has brought his own style of chaos to the series and gives the reader a chance to recognize these characters as real people they pass on the street, people they know, and even people they hate.
Fans of The Dead Man will discover a talented author. Fans of Anthony Neil Smith will find out about a fantastic scary series. Fans of both will want more from both.