Review: Winter at Death’s Hotel by Kenneth Cameron

5th September 2013


*I received this book from the publisher Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrives on the island of Manhattan with his wife, Louisa. There for a book tour, the loving couple check into the Britannic Hotel, a building that boasts the thickest walls and an added bonus of soundproof rooms. As their room is prepared, Louisa glimpses a man and young woman arm in arm, noting their happiness.

The next day, the papers arrive, and a gory murder is splashed across the front pages. The victim? The same woman Louisa saw in the lobby of the Britannic the day before. She pens a note to the police, but the victim was the wife of a wealthy man. And the man she was with at the hotel was most certainly not him. In the corruptible Manhattan police force, the case goes away, but Louisa cannot stop thinking about it.

A sprained ankle keeps her from going on tour with Arthur, and she enlists the help of the hotel detective and a determined female reporter to track down the identity of the girl and her killer.

Promising, right? Even though not all that historically accurate, this is the type of book that can help me while away a summer’s day. Except that Cameron’s writing style was…odd. From the opening of the book, Louisa goes on at length about her and Arthur’s sex life. So much so that it stood out and began to be almost funny. But then, Cameron also used vivid sexual imagery in his narration as well:

The island of Manhattan looked in it like a thick penis about to penetrate the New Jersey Bay, which rather tickled Dunne; at the moment, however, he had the map placed vertically so that the penis seemed too flaccid to penetrate anything.

Immediately, at her eye level, somebody had written in indelible pencil, Fitch eats the hairy banana. She thought she knew what “banana” meant but didn’t understand the “hairy” party, although she’d seen only the one and maybe other men had hair on theirs.

These inclusions were…unsettling, but as the book progressed and more murders happen, I was absolutely horrified by Winter at Death’s Hotel. Gratuitous, heinous violence against women is disturbing, and the murders are described so vividly I had to set the book down and take deep breaths. A man is killed in the book (not a spoiler), but the violence is nowhere near as graphic in its depiction, and even more troublesome is the fact that the male character is described as a homosexual. The connection between sex, females and/or effeminate young men, and horrible violence is reinforced throughout the entire book. Most people I know don’t actually enjoy this. Yet we regularly consume books, TV, and movies that seem to glorify in just this type of gore. Disturbingly, these images haven’t lessened even as we are more aware of the “torture porn” industry and its perpetuation.

I did finish the book, though I wanted to pull a Joey from Friends and stick it in the freezer. After I finished reading it, I wanted it as far from me as possible even though the cover art isn’t suggestive of what lies beneath it. Perhaps if Winter at Death’s Hotel had spoken to larger problems of the correlation between women and sexuality and violence or had examined the killer and his tendencies I may have felt more willing to read and at least understand the inclusion of the violence. However, that never seemed to happen, and the closing scenes did nothing to change my opinion. In fact, I wish it had come with a warning, as I do not actively choose to read books like this. So I say, with hesitation, that you may…

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

  • Nishita

    OMG…the first 3 paras of your review made the book sound so promising, but it just seems terrible and that quote you added, eeks. This sounds so immature.

    • Odd. Definitely odd.

  • Charlie

    I read Cameron’s The Bohemian Girl a couple of years ago, and liked it but wasn’t a big fan (it was about a cross-dresser, a running theme perhaps?) I don’t think there were sexual references like there are here, but I wouldn’t read this given what you’ve said and my prior reading.

    • Nope. It’s not one I would really recommend, honestly. The imagery was so strange and disturbing. One of the few books I regret reading.