With a failing economy and dwindling population, the once-flourishing mining community of St. Nicholas in northern Canada was on the road to ruin.
That was until the arrival of the Bingzhen Group, a Chinese-American conglomerate with ambitious plans to buy the town and transform it into the most popular ski resort and holiday destination in North America.
With the deal done and Christmas approaching, the community is buzzing with excitement about the future and the influx of new residents, like Binzhen envoy Ling Wong, Scottish schoolteacher Shona Fleming, new school custodian Curtis Tate and a small army of contractors. What none of them realize is that St. Nicholas was never the people’s to give away.
There is something else here which has long laid claim to the land. Something which has held the town in its thrall and does not intend to give it up without a fight. Something strange and inhuman. Something cruel and powerful and very, very, hungry.
The children call him Santa Claus.
If you’re looking for a festive book you can curl up by a crackling fire with, and read whilst sipping on a piping hot mug of cocoa- don’t look here. If, like any sane person, you would rather read about a mythical insectoid posing as Saint Nicholas, then this one’s for you!! “Hail Santa!” is as childhood-dream-crushing and as ho-ho-horrifying as it sounds.
Ling Wong, leader of the Bingzhen Group, has big plans for the slowly crumbling town of “Saint Nicholas.” She plans to take the near-forgotten mining-community, and transform it into “Coldwell Slopes,” the biggest and most popular ski resort in Canada. With Christmas approaching, most of the town’s dwindling population is thrilled to welcome Ling Wong, and an influx of new residents including teacher/ badass Shona Fleming, school custodian Curtis Tate, and a plethora of contractors. BUT… something is wrong. The Christmas season is off to a decidedly un-merry start, when Father McHattie is rushed and murdered by the school children of Saint Nicholas. Unbeknownst to the Bingzhen Group, an otherworldly force runs this town, an enigmatic creature, known ominously to the town’s children as “Santa Claus…” Thus begins a blood-soaked battle for survival between the town’s inhabitants and good old Saint Nick himself.
“Hail Santa!” whilst being neither holly or jolly, is a Christmas cracker of a horror-comedy, that made me feel rather ill with its undeniably grotesque sequences, but also laugh out loud the next minute with its utterly hilarious prose. With a plot that is certainly… out-there, McNee often treads the very thin line between funny and ridiculous, but ultimately roped me in.
McNee’s “Santa,” remains a mystery to me. It’s never quite revealed what the mysterious entity wreaking havoc upon Coldwell Slopes is, and it seems McNee has drawn from multiple sources whilst writing the ambiguous creature. The most obvious of these is certainly “The Krampus,” a similarly anthropomorphic European demon- however, rest assured McNee’s “Saint Nicholas,” is nothing like you will have ever read before. Arguably even more terrifying are the children of Saint Nicholas, who under the leadership of 10-year old Devon McCulloch “Reject God,” and “Worship Santa.” The kids, who don’t see past the demonic, alien thing’s (I really don’t know… give me a break) merry facade trustingly drink the eggnog Santa provides them with, and slowly begin to transform into monstrous caricatures of their former selves.
The rest of the cast of characters were somewhat a redeeming factor for McNee, they were funny and raw, and perfect vessels to recount the rather grim Christmas story.
Now, I’ll be transparent. Whilst “Hail Santa!” and festive horror in general is perfect for us Halloween lovers to make Christmas spooky, my reading experience was far from perfect. My primary issue was without a doubt the repetition. Much like Felix Blackwell’s “Stolen Tongues,” the middle portion of the book is just a pattern of killing, escaping and so on. The deaths in this book are gory, well-written and entertaining, but did this book need to be 335 pages? Absolutely not. I genuinely believe that the storyline could have been condensed into a novella.
Furthermore, I feel that at times, the story tries to be something that it’s not- again perhaps to bulk it out. There’s several theories that float around about what exactly Santa Claus is, some of which are outlandish and plain bizarre, even for a splatter-horror-comedy. Frustratingly, by the end of the book, the reader is no closer to a conclusive answer- it becomes apparent these conspiracies served no ultimate purpose. Ambiguity and open endings aren’t an issue for me, but the mystery remaining unsolved after so much build up was unnecessary and anti-climactic. Overall, I loved the writing, I found the plot incredibly entertaining, and (to me) Christmas isn’t Christmas without a little bit of viscera- I JUST wish it was more concise.
Despite its flaws, “Hail Santa!” was one hell of a ride, and a fitting way to start December. So, if you’re feeling a little *too* merry, or are looking for a chilling Christmas read this winter, be sure to grab this one- just be prepared for the paranoia to hit every time “Here Comes Santa Claus,” plays on the radio, and make sure you don’t read whilst eating your Christmas dinner.