Pinnacle, 2001, 476 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-7860-1266-8
(Necessary disclaimer: Please adjust review according to my known bias toward A> Authors I have met and B> Authors who live in the Ottawa area.)
In his first novel, If Angels Fall, Rick Mofina proved he could take a familiar story and tell it well enough to warrant compulsive reading. In Cold Fear, he tries something more original and succeeds despite a plot that takes a while before truly beginning.
It starts, trivially enough, with a family quarrel deep in Glacier National Park. The little girl of the family is frightened enough to run away from the camp site and gets lost. Her disappearance is signaled to authorities, park-wide searching begins and the police is called in to investigate the parent. It seems that in situations like these, it’s not impossible that the parents of the “lost” children are, in fact, responsible for their disappearances.
Already, we can see two recurring themes from Mofina’s first book; children in danger and perfectly comprehensible misunderstandings between parties involved. If Angels Fall depicted the hunt for a child kidnapper and honestly highlighted tensions between the police and the media. This time around, there the third party represented by the parents, and of course the little girl. As the omniscient reader, we’re privy to the truth, but our characters are not, and Mofina milks a lot of tension between the inevitable clashes between these naturally opposed parties.
It gets worse (or better, for us readers) when the true plot of the novel emerges in the latter half, introducing yet another party, a criminal presence whose shadow looms large on the proceedings even more than a quarter-century after an horrific event. Stuff happens in a delightfully chaotic way and very soon everyone converges toward a dramatic climax that feels quite contrived, but satisfying nonetheless.
For fans of If Angels Fall, Cold Fear does stand alone given that the two protagonists of the first book are here reduced to glorified cameos. Even then, alas, there are quite a few spoilers for the previous novel in the brief time both characters are present… so you might avoid this book anyway if you plan on reading Mofina’s first novel anytime soon. One returning protagonist at least has the glamorous role of setting in motion the media circus that comes to dominate the last third of the novel. I was particularly impressed by Chapter Fifty-Seven, which succinctly describes how an exclusive scoop can dominate a nation’s thoughtspace in a few hours. It’s a great piece of writing by an author who knows these things.
While the rest of the novel is not as spectacular, the prose is no slouch as far as interest is concerned; you can easily zip through Mofina’s book, compelled by the steadily engrossing plotting, good characters and the easy prose. This is crime fiction in its most readable state.
In short, there isn’t much to complain about Rick Mofina’s Cold Fear. The child-in-peril is a good hook to interest readers, and the rest of the novel propels itself forward with great ease. It’s a assured piece of fiction by a writer who seems more than capable of holding his own in the crowded crime fiction category. I’m not an entirely unbiased reader when in comes to Rick Mofina, but why don’t you check out one of his books at the local library?