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Territory by Dan Howarth

You may have seen my post earlier in the week about our family trip to Sweden. The snow and ice looks beautiful, but make no mistake – the temperatures experienced in the region are no laughing matter. It was exceptionally cold when we were there. When we were out on snowmobiles in the dark, the temperature dipped to -37 degrees centigrade. It’s a brutal environment, tough even for the locals. If you’re not wearing the right equipment, you’re in trouble. You’ll literally freeze.

I’ve done a fair amount of Nordic travelling, and it always strikes me how well adapted the people who live there have to be in comparison to ill-equipped city dwellers like me. In some areas it’s not just the temperature and the frequently brutal weather that can cause problems, there are also issues of remoteness and accessibility, and often wildlife that’s as keen to hunt you as you are to hunt it. It’s prime horror story territory.

On that note, just before we left for Sweden, I read DAN HOWARTH‘s excellent short novel, TERRITORY. Maybe I should have held off until we came back…

In a remote Finnish hunting community, darkness and the cold hold the villagers close. As a pack of wolves threaten the village’s future, grief-stricken hunter Jari must unite the population to reclaim their territory.

Haunted by the loss of his wife and his best hunting dog, hunter Jari tries to stem the flow of alcohol and grief that threatens to destroy his life. As the darkness and isolation of winter settles around his small hunting community in remote Finland, it brings with it another threat. The encroachment and growing boldness of a pack of wolves endangers the villagers’ way of life. The presence of the wolves opens old feuds and cracks within the community’s makeup. As Jari tries to lead the villagers through their toughest season, it soon becomes clear that not everyone will survive the winter…

Full disclosure – I’ve known Dan for many years (he was co-host of the THIS IS HORROR podcast back in the early days) and he was kind enough to send me a copy of TERRITORY. But my history with the author has no bearing on this recommendation because, quite simply, TERRITORY is an excellent book.

Dan perfectly captures the fragility of life in the Finnish wilderness. This is a cruel and unforgiving environment where the failure to fully prepare can have huge repercussions. You can feel the disconnect between this small group eking out their harsh existence in the village, and those who’ve chosen city life in Helsinki. These are proud, resourceful people who, to an extent, keep each other alive. So when the bonds between them are tested to breaking point, the potential for disaster is huge.

Though the book has a relatively slight page count, there’s more than enough space here for Dan to ratchet up the tension and raise the stakes. As a pack of wolves threaten a farmer’s livestock, and the stability of the community as a whole, the desperation seeps through the page. And the final denouement of the book is superb. You’re blindsided by the internal conflicts and increasing hostility, and you won’t see what’s coming.

TERRITORY is a cracker of a story, and I recommend you get hold of a copy and give it a spin. It’s available in print, as an eBook, and as an audiobook from NORTHERN REPUBLIC. Find out more about Dan’s writing at www.danhowarthwriter.com.