Sunday 19 September 2010

Book review : Cold Kiss - John Rector

If John Rector was in a room with me now, I'd smack him. Hard ! And then I'd keep smacking him until he relented and gave me an answer. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a violent person ! Usually. But I stayed up until past midnight last night reading Cold Kiss and this morning, I was up at 6.30 to finish the final pages and find out what happened at the end. But it turns out that John Rector is one of those evil, twisted authors who loves playing with his readers and he just leaves us dangling, giving us no clue as to how it all ends. If you're an Eastenders fan, it's like the ultimate doof-doof moment - but with those, you groan but also smile, knowing that in a couple of days, the next episode will pick up right where that one left off and all will be revealed. In Cold Kiss, I read the final line and howled (silently - everyone else in the house was asleep !) "aaaggghhh that's so not fair !", knowing that - unless he decides to write a new novel featuring the hapless couple portrayed in the book - we'll never know whether they get their happily-ever-after ending or if their luck really has run out.

OK, I know I'm complaining and yes, the ending (or rather non-ending) did annoy me, but that just goes to show how great a writer John Rector is. The book starts simply - a young couple, Nate and Sara, are on a long drive to Reno and stop off in a diner for a rest stop. We know she's pregnant, they're both very much in love, they're planning on getting married but that's about it. We discover her parents are religious and don't like Nate, we know Nate has a bit of a murky past and their childhoods weren't great but that's all we know about them. Yet somehow - maybe because we can see how much they love each other and deep down, we all have a romantic streak that wants to see young love come good - we instantly connect with them, empathise with them and watch in muted horror as their happy little lives start spinning out of control.

On paper and reduced to just a few lines, the story sounds simplistic and lacklustre. Out of the goodness of their hearts (Sara's motivation) and because he offers them some much needed cash (Nate's motivation), they agree to take a hitch-hiker with them when they set off. In my mind's eye, the mysterious Syl instantly morphed into Rutger Hauer's Hitcher. But no, within a few pages, they pull in at a seedy motel to escape the impending snowstorm and discover he's dead. The young lovebirds flap about a bit, then discover that he had a suitcase full of money with him and flap about some more. They make some bad choices but choices that any one of us could have made, so we still feel for them and think of them as the good guys caught up in a living nightmare.

As events unfold and the motel's other residents and guests come out of the woodwork, the reader is trapped in a kind of Miss Marple-esque whodunnit - but we already know what really happened so it's more of a who'sgonnaworkoutwhodunnit followed by a who'sgonnadoitnext ! As the corpses start piling up, we're as interested in the psychological crisis Sara is going through as the murders themselves. Are they innocent victims dragged into something they wanted no part of or is she right to think it is all their fault because they picked him up in the first place, even if it was for the right reasons ?

The reader becomes intensely emotionally engaged with the central characters, still understanding their motivations and hoping against the odds that they can get their happy ending. The odds keep stacking up against them but everything's possible. I read the final lines with bated breath, willing everything to turn out ok ... but, as I said in the opening paragraph, the book ends with a total cliffhanger. (Cue another smack around the head for John Rector, who I am sure will be grinning if he ever reads this review !)

The book oozes eeriness and creepiness, with its sinister motel, eccentric characters and the mounting tension and sense of no escape as the snowstorm closes in, which just heighten the emotional charge of the novel. I thought to myself several times that this could make a really good, atmospheric movie so I wasn't surprised to see that, according to the author's website, it is optioned for a feature film now in development. I'll definitely watch it to see if we find out the director's take on Sara and Nate's future ! I'll also definitely keep an eye out for John Rector's future books because, if this debut novel is anything to go by, he is definitely one to watch.

star rating : 4.5/5 (that's payback for not giving us a definite ending, otherwise it would definitely have been a 5/5 !)

RRP : £7.99

Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books (2 Sep 2010)
ISBN-10: 1849830681
ISBN-13: 978-1849830683
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1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love it when the authors reply to my reviews :-)

    Hi Cheryl, I loved your review, thank you!

    The very first person who came up at my first signing handed me the book and said, “I hated the ending.” The same night, a girl came up and told me the ending made her cry. It seems to be one way or the other with most people, love it or hate it. Since I wrote it, I’m obviously on the “love it” side. The way I see it, if they would’ve won at the roulette wheel, the entire story would’ve taken on a completely different feel. It also would’ve been a huge Deus ex machina, and would have diminished the overall effect of the story. And if they would’ve lost, they would’ve gone their separate ways and left the reader thinking, ‘so what’s the point?’

    The ending I saw from the beginning was that the money wasn’t important. I wanted them to realize, right before the ball dropped, that they had each other and that they’d be fine and that was all that mattered. Kind of sappy for a noir novel, I know, but it was the only way I could see the book ending. And since I have somewhat of a romantic streak for a guy who writes violent suspense novels, it felt right to me and I’ve never regretted ending the book that way. When my agent read it, he told me I was going to divide my audience with that ending, and he was right.

    But, you’ll be happy to know that the next book has a very definite ending that doesn’t leave you wondering at all. I can probably get a way with an ending like the ending for The Cold Kiss once, maybe twice, but if I start doing it all the time, people are going to want to kill me.

    Thank you again for taking the time to write and post your wonderful review. It brightened my day.

    All best,



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