Cold, the chilling new thriller from prolific Ojibway writer Drew Hayden Taylor, begins with a plane crash. Journalist Fabiola Halan, one of two passengers in a Cessna piloted by Merle Thompson, is on a press junket for the opening of a new diamond mine in the Arctic when something goes wrong with the plane. Halan wakes up dazed and with a broken leg as a brutal storm envelops the scene of the crash.
What appears to be the set-up for a tale of survival, however, turns out to be a preamble for the novel, which is set in Toronto almost a year later. Halan arrives in the city on a book tour, promoting her account of surviving the plane crash, at the same time that Paul Norris, a player in the Indigenous Hockey League, arrives for a tournament. Meanwhile, Elmore Trent, an Indigenous studies professor, finds himself in the fading days of an affair that has cost him his marriage. The trio does not have anything in common, and there are no connections between them.
That is, until the mutilated bodies of murder victims begin to show up and draw the attention of Detective Ruby Birch, who connects the victims to Paul and Elmore. Is there a serial killer active in Toronto? Is someone hunting Elmore and Paul? And just what happened to Fabiola after the plane crash?
Cold, which draws upon elements from thrillers, mysteries, and horror novels (with a healthy amount of sex and humour), is a delight, a fun and suspenseful read. The characters are well-drawn, just broad enough for easy recognition, but with significant depths and personal conflicts. Elmore, for example, appears, at first, to be simply a narcissist, gliding through life heedless of the cost to those around him. However, as the novel progresses, Elmore’s character becomes more complicated and less irritating as his past is revealed. His habit of citing contemporary Indigenous works, from the fiction of Cherie Dimaline to Gregory Younging’s Elements of Indigenous Style, is a perfect note for an academic. (There is a subtly hilarious moment when he cites one of Taylor’s own works, without giving the author’s name, of course.)
History and race loom large in this novel, including Fabiola’s childhood journey from her Caribbean home. “A long time ago, in a faraway place, the dark-hued passenger had sworn she would never take another boat ride,” Taylor writes of Fabiola as the plane falls from the sky. “If she walked away from this, Fabiola would have to expand her no-travel ban to include planes, which would essentially limit her to trains, Ubers, and carnival rides.” Taylor also traces Elmore’s experience at residential school, and the family home he refuses to give up, though he never visits it. These elements add to the complexity of the characters – and the reader’s understanding of them – even as the novel barrels forward with its fast-paced narrative, propulsive dialogue, and an increasingly suspenseful central mystery. Cold is a perfect treat for the winter months.