"Mountain of the Dead" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Ghillinnein Books
Written by Jeremy Bates
2018, 384 pages, Fiction
Released on May 5th, 2018
If you enjoy horror thrillers loosely based upon real events, then Mountain of the Dead by Jeremy Bates is well worth a look. Although it has the subtitle World’s Scariest Places Book Five, these standalone novels feature diverse plots, including the Japanese suicide forests, the French Catacombs and Aztec hauntings. This time out, Bates takes his well-researched blend of true horror to northern Siberia for his reimagining of the mystery known as the ‘Dyatlov Pass Incident’.
The prologue opens in 1959 with a group of mountaineers exploring the northern Ural Mountains. Right from the off it is revealed that this is also their “last day to live” and there is something obviously very dangerous lurking in the mountains. This is the crux which is the mystery at the centre of this novel and it is also the major weakness. From the way in which the plot unfolds, right from the outset, there are just not that many realistic possibilities regarding who or what the killer might be. This limits the level of mystery and suspense on offer, even if it does jog along at an enjoyable and very easy to read pace.
Bates constructs a very thorough and layered plot around the killing of these nine mountaineers, which is being reinvestigated decades later by a successful American non-fiction writer. We are introduced to the modern-story strand when two Americans enter Siberia, attempting to head for the Dyatlov Pass and interview potential witnesses and see the original site for themselves. Although this incident has already been researched extensively, the author believes there has been some type of government cover-up and has been obsessed by the mystery for some time. Whitey also believes this to be perfect material for his next book; accompanied by his best friend Disco, a successful actor, the two men head north to the area of the deaths. The problem is naïve American tourists are easy pickings for the rough and ready locals.
The second plotline takes us back to 1959, picking up the tale with ‘Nine Days to Live’ in the opening of these chapter headings. The travellers are in the early stages of their journey, on the train towards the mining town of Serov and we are introduced to the various characters. Along the way photographs are provided of the real people involved, which add atmosphere and authenticity to the proceedings, like reading a true crime book. Although this story thread is very detailed and has a great sense of time and place, the countdown dilutes much of the tension with an air of inevitability to it. The book feels slightly overlong at 384 pages, and these sequences could have been trimmed. We already know they are all going to die; I can appreciate the author wanting to humanise the characters, but it is dragged and slows down by too much detail.
The present-day story with the two Americans had much more urgency than the 1959 countdown. Whitey and Disco struggle to make progress in Siberia, some locals help and hinder them along the way, Whitey battles to cope with his alcoholism and there are eventful flashbacks to a failed relationship which has exacerbated his drinking. Both Americans are entertaining characters and it is very easy to get dragged into their plight as the novel develops.
It is not difficult predicting where the two storylines are going to converge. As it is based on a real-life event, the author is faithful to the original story and coming up with a plausible ending, which is not predictable, was never going to be easy. Before long, Whitey and Disco are up to their eyeballs in trouble and you’ll be feeling the frostbite along with the characters as it heads into a nail-biting climax.
Mountain of the Dead is a sound fact-based historical novel which has lots going for it and I’m sure fans of the other books in the series will be very happy for a further entry. However, it lacks the spark required in creating a genuine page-turner which would help the novel pull away from the pack.