Raven's Reviews > Cold Hands

Cold Hands by John Niven
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Aug 10, 2012

really liked it

John Niven is perhaps better known for darkly witty satires, ‘Kill Your Friends’, ‘The Amateurs’ and ‘The Second Coming’ so I was interested to read this, his first foray into the world of crime writing with the skilful insertion of a ‘J’ to differentiate this from his normal fare. And what a completely gripping, criminal smorgasbord of brilliant and blood-soaked delights it is as you find yourself, in the words of Irvine Welsh, “trampling through a moral minefield.”

Donnie Miller leads an unassuming life in a remote area of Canada in an absolutely beautiful house, with his upwardly mobile and loaded wife, his young son and whiles away his time as a film reviewer for the local newspaper, fortuitously part of the empire of his father-in -law. The only signs of strain in Donnie’s life is fitting into the influential circles his wife moves in but this is a minor problem as Donnie’s past will come back to haunt him with devastating consequences for himself and his family. By carefully interweaving the events of Donnie’s youth growing up in the relative poverty and social deprivation of Scotland, the story is punctuated throughout by positively Irvine Welsh-esque interludes depicting his cruel actions as a member of a gang intent on bullying and victimising a boy who epitomises everything they are not. Written in vernacular and in a blunt, brutal but ultimately quite affecting style, these interludes put the character of Donnie at odds with his portrayal now as a family man and this, for me, works perfectly within the structure of the book. There is also a very poignant portrayal of his would-be attacker as their world has been shattered by the event s of this childhood and we bear witness to them rebuilding their life, plotting and scheming to avenge the crimes of the past. It becomes obvious to the reader that Donnie’s peace will be shattered and yes, you do have to suspend your disbelief somewhat at this point, as the past violently catches up with him in an explosion of revenge and hatred from a very unlikely aggressor and you find your whole perception of Donnie as a good guy challenged at every turn. I liked the way that by depicting Donnie as a film reviewer, Niven then sets out to make the denouement of the novel descend into the most brilliant and unbelievable violence mirroring the ‘schlock horror’ of some of the best straight to DVD films, so that as a reader you are metaphorically looking through your fingers as the violence is ramped up further but remains as compulsive as it is unbelievable.

Therein lies my warning to the more sensitive reader that this is not one for the faint-hearted and if Danny Boyle is looking for a new film project after his Olympic shennanigans I think that he and Niven could have a great collaborative effort bringing this to the big-screen. Despite its slight faults this was a totally enjoyable although blood-soaked read and with the promise of another thriller or two appearing in the next couple of years I can’t wait to see what Niven comes up with next...
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