It’s not very often that I physically react to what I’m reading in a novel, but Niven’s Cold Hands had me crying within the first ten pages and literally cringing a lot from there on. This is a gruesome thriller, reminiscent of Val McDermid, and I barely put it down from start to finish. There’s a nice twist in the middle, too, which I had to read twice. It totally blind-sided me, and had me sitting on the couch with my mouth wide open.
The blurb on the back of the book is very basic, but sums up the story in a nutshell: “You think you can leave the past behind. Think again.” This is a story about revenge and Niven has some thoughtful comments to make on this subject in his final chapter. When we do something bad in our life, the repercussions from even a single act extend further and wider, impacting on the lives of so many more people, than we could possibly imagine. “The responses to atrocity”, he says are “as varied as human belief itself.” Most people, when given the opportunity to exact revenge for some heinous act, will actually turn around and walk away. But not everybody: some will demand revenge and take it sevenfold, plotting and scheming, taking years if necessary, until they are finally sated.
Donnie Miller thought he could leave the past behind: start over in a new country with a new life. Living in Saskatchewan with his beautiful wife and son is a complete contrast to the underprivileged and troubled upbringing he had in Scotland. After several years in prison, he is released and given a new identity, with a chance at a different life. Everything is going perfectly, but when the family dog is found dead one morning, Donnie begins to feel like his new life may have been a dream after all. As the story unfolds we learn more about what Donnie did and the demons that now chase him.
John J. Niven started out as a successful writer of comedies, and Cold Hands is his first thriller. If you take this on, be prepared for some serious nail-biting.