John J. Niven
Donnie Miller counts himself lucky. Living in a beautiful, spacious house in the wild and remote landscape of central Canada, he spends his days writing for the local newspaper, working on a film script, and acting as house-husband. After a troubled and impoverished upbringing in Scotland, he now has all he wants: a caring wife, a bright and happy son, a generous father-in-law. As the brutal northern winter begins to bite, he can sit back and enjoy life.
But his peace is soon broken. There are noises in the nearby woods, signs of some mysterious watcher. When the family dog disappears, Donnie makes a horrifying discovery. Is it wolves, as the police suspect, or something far more dangerous, far darker? What secrets has Donnie been keeping? And why does he have the terrible sense that his dream was never going to last?
The author of this novel is known for his blackly comic novels, all of which I loved, so when I heard about Cold Hands I was intrigued. Reinvented under the name John J. Niven, as opposed to the John Niven of old, this novel took Niven from black comedy to dark, twisting thriller. I’m still not convinced it’s the best move, as this novel doesn’t sit among my favourites like his previous ones. However, for fans of crime thrillers and thoroughly dark, twisted tales, it’s certainly worth a go as one of the best in this genre from my experience.
Donnie Miller is a fascinating character from the off as the novel flits between his present day life in Canada with his wife and son to his childhood in Scotland, which seems a lot less rosy. As the novel progresses it seems his past is darker than it initially seemed and his life in Canada thinly balances on the need to keep his previous life hidden. I really enjoyed the main twist in this novel and the pace is fast enough to mean I read it in a couple of sittings as I needed to know what happened next. There are several further twists and turns which kept me guessing at every angle.
Niven manages to maintain a slightly off, unsettling atmosphere from the beginning of the novel which upgrades to full scale horror as things progress and I really enjoyed the way he controlled the atmosphere so well, making it as essential to each scene as the characters. Aside from Donnie none of the other characters are looked at in particular depth, but this works fine as he’s so interesting the others really are only bit parts in his story.
This novel had me gripped throughout and is as good as any other thriller I’ve read. However, I’m a huge fan of Niven’s comedy works so hope he does go back to writing in that genre in the future.