Right off the bat, I need to preface this by saying that I love the Dyatlov Pass mystery. I’ve listened to podcasts on it, read non-fiction books about it, and if Return to Dyatlov Pass can get your interest in the Dyatlov Pass mystery going? Great. I love the idea that it’s going to be introducing new people to this. And for the most part, I don’t mind the way that they treated the mystery itself.
This was a bit of an edgy book, so I’ll put my content warnings down at the bottom of the post to avoid spoilers.
Return to Dyatlov Pass follows the adventures of a podcaster, Nat McPherson, as she investigates the mysterious deaths of nine Russian students in 1959. These students, in the prime of their lives and with a ton of mountaineering experience, disappeared during a trip through Dyatlov Pass and when a search party was mustered, all they could find was the brutally mutilated remains of the students.
But there were so many questions left unanswered like what could have scared them so badly that they cut their way out from the inside of their tents? Why did they go out without the proper clothing and protection from the cold, leaving it inside their tents? And how did some of the students get injuries that were so bad, that the coroner said it looked similar to injuries of someone hit by a truck?
These are just some of the questions that Nat hopes to answer when she gathers a crew of adventurers so she can retain her cred as a hardcore podcaster who doesn’t shy away from the difficult and the dangerous.
At the beginning, at least, Nat is relatable and there’s a good amount of charm to the way that they speak, but I can’t say that for everyone.
Nat’s journey into the unknown is spurred on by what she calls a troll. A man who has been harassing her and stalking her for months now which is a strange choice for the book to make. Inside of deciding to go on her own, Nat is goaded into making this trip by someone who she despises. The book makes a very clear point to let us know that even though Nat despises this troll, the troll is right. She had lost her edge.
This is just the first of many things in Return to Dyatlov Pass that left a bad taste in my mouth.
The book moves at a brisk pace, setting up the story and getting them to the Pass. The action starts up and the tension is maintained nicely. As someone who knows a good amount about the Dyatlov Pass mystery, I thought I was going to be put off from the start, but the book manages to keep up its tension.
But that tension, atmosphere, and the brisk pace of the writing kept being undercut by the characters. All of them are distinctly unlikeable in some shape or form.
It’s not a good thing when the characters around your main character make her less likeable. It’s even worse when you’re begging the book to not make someone a love interest and you can’t tell where the book stands on this terrible jerk.
I’m going to try to do this without spoilers, but there’s this weird subplot later on that derails the plot for a little bit. It goes nowhere and all it serves to do is have the reader go ‘are they a rapist?’ and ‘can they be trusted?’. It was so jarring to me and felt out of place.
This could have just been a really good horror novel, but instead it felt like we had to make everyone a suspect. And the problem with unlikeable people in horror (everyone gets a turn at being horrible by the by) is that we don’t care when they are in frightening situations. It’s hard to sympathize and fear for them when we don’t like them.
In the end, Return to Dyatlov Pass is a novel that has a lot of promise, but doesn’t stick the landing.
A fun read, but not one that’ll stick with me.
2.5 out of 5 stars.
Content warnings: Possible attempted rape, abuse, gore.