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When COLD HANDS by John J Niven goes all Critical!!!

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Crime Scene

Louise Phillips

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In the first of many great reviews from the New Crime Scene Book Reviewer Panel, Mick Halpin AKA Critical Mick, takes us on a thrilling ride with this terrifying but evocative thriller – COLD HANDS by John J Niven!!

Does a crime thriller with an unreliable narrator deserve an unreliable reviewer? One of the following five facts about John J. Niven’s Cold Hands is a bald-faced lie:

  • The tale is told in retrospect by Donnie Miller, a Scottish-born resident of the isolated outskirts of Alarbus, Saskatchewan.
  • Married to the tall and lovely newspaper editor Sammy and father to an eight-year-old named Walt, Donnie’s days are filled with drafting movie reviews, chauffeuring Walt to hockey matches, walking the dog, enduring dinner parties thrown by his millionaire father-in-law, and drinking very little while pecking away at screenplays kept in a drawer.
  • Donnie also hides a gun and a horrible secret.
  • His comfortable life is threatened when Donnie finds the horribly slaughtered remains of Herby the family dog. The cops and neighbours seal their heads deep inside their anoraks and dismiss the missing eyes, tongue bitten in two, strewn guts and gnawing rat as a random wolf attack. (No one in Canada has read Julius Winsome.)
  • Donnie’s wife, Sammy, gets her wedding ring trapped in the Frigidaire’s ice maker while downing her daily protein. The resulting “cold hands” refrigerator moment sets off an unexpected- and heart-warming- chain of events.

OK, too easy. Heart-warming? With action unfolding during the fiercest blizzard since The Shining? Though speaking with an accent out of Christopher Brookmyre, Niven matches Stephen King’s talent with tension, and the speed of pages flying. The final one hundred and eighty of Niven’s two hundred and fifty-three pages were read in one late-night sitting. Writing as gripping as that deserves a better bullet point.

The whole notion of “deserving” lies at the heart of Cold Hands. What happens when people do not get what they deserve? What happens when that injustice drives a body mad? And also, what happens when the failure of retribution leads to a perpetrator ultimately proving that people can change? Does redeeming oneself go some distance toward balancing cosmic scales that hang heavy overhead? Or is it wiser to put a physical distance- one as wide as the gap between Scotland and Saskatchewan- between yourself and your past?

Niven writes action with sharp detail and moral depths. Some elements chosen as his plot reaches its climax do stretch credibility, but the shockingly-vivid historical details and social parallels with contemporary cases makes it well worth suspending any disbelief and following where Niven’s exciting new voice leads.

John Niven was born in Irvine, Ayrshire. He read English Literature at Glasgow University and spent the next ten years working in the UK music industry. He has written for The TimesThe Sunday TimesScotland on SundayEsquire and Q Magazine amongst other publications. He is the author of the novella Music from Big Pink and the novels Kill Your FriendsThe Amateurs and The Second Coming.

You can order COLD HANDS by John J Niven HERE


  • The Dark Room: A thrilling new novel from the number one Irish Times bestselling author of Keep Your Eyes on Me
  • www.designforwriters.com

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