Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
As I read COLD HANDS I thought things were slowly going to get worse – a trip down the stairs to hell, a step at a time. Then I fell all the way, as does Donnie Miller who narrates this tale of troubled family life during a Saskatchewan winter.
Donnie is a man who keeps moving. As the tale is told in flashback from recuperation in Florida we know that it has an end, and intercutting with scenes from his upbringing in Scotland (in Irvine New Town, I think, or somewhere like it), we quickly guess that it will be a tale of retribution. That sudden fall into the pit, though, comes from a completely unexpected direction. He has a good life in Canada (especially when we know of his childhood: it cannot be called an upbringing because no one seems to have cared enough to bring him up), with a successful wife, wealthy supportive father-in-law, young son, and a career as a film reviewer for the local newspaper. He would like to write films, is struggling and unhappy but hides it. In a bigger way he is hiding from the past, though his memories of it slip into the story. He is also an actor, someone who has to live a part. Unfortunately, and not long after he finds that his dog has been butchered, he finds that his nemesis is a better actor than him, and that nemesis intends to make reparation with unanaesthetised surgery. No one about him is exempt.
COLD HANDS has as its template a Scottish case described by Gita Sereny, and another which occurred in England more recently. And later, Donnie Miller’s escape from life in Auchentiber Young Offender’s Institute recalls Jimmy Boyle’s exit from Barlinnie Prison via the Special Unit. What John J Niven has supplied, though, are the things that cannot be escaped – the memories of what was done in the past and the horror that they have brought again to the present. Donnie Miller is perhaps not remembering the whole truth, and later he discovers that the losses of his friends and loved ones are far worse than he thought, as Niven plays with concepts of reality.
Some readers will have difficulty with real cases inspiring a novel like this, but it reads quickly, has the benefit of brevity for a modern thriller, is plotted (the skills that nemesis will use have been described), and a new setting in the bourgeois wastes of provincial Canada. As John Niven the author has given us three novels, each very different: John J Niven is a thriller writer and I will be looking out for that next John J Niven title.