Book review of Cold Inside by J.W. Tapper

This review of Cold Inside by J.W. Tapper was written in 2018 for this website.

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Self published, 2017, Paperback, 358pp, ISBN 9781549918254

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ColdInsideGenres, man, I tell ya, they can be like the no-man’s-land of fiction: impossible to cross because they’re watched by fierce sentries who guard little strips of territory with an unforgiving glare.

And why would you want to cross over anyway? You’re happy right where you are. Stick with what you know, right?

Except…if I behaved the same with regards to music as I often do to literature then my audio world would be so much the poorer. Sure, I’d be better off financially, but considerably poorer culturally.

Despite this, when asked to review Cold Inside by J.W. Tapper I hesitated for a second: crime fiction? The kind of thing advertised all over the place on the London Underground? Nah, not really my bag, guv; I do science fiction, innit.

Except…why the hell not try something new? Something different? Worse case scenario: It’s not very good and I return to my genre in triumph, all faith in sf as unquestionably the BEST genre restored.

Set in the early ‘80s in the northern UK, J.W. Tapper’s sixth novel carefully builds a tower of tension, as one grim murder follows another and Detective Sergeant Dan Blacksmith races to find the killer before anyone else dies. But why is the killer taking the trouble to plant false clues that fool nobody? And who keeps leaving cryptic messages for DS Blacksmith suggesting his investigation is getting warmer or colder?

Cold Inside follows Blacksmith as he follows down the clues – false or otherwise – with his younger partner, Rick Price. We occasionally cut from their side to the viewpoint of victims or suspects, but it’s Dan and Rick who are the centre characters.

There’s enough police procedural to make the story feel genuine, but not so much that the story gets bogged down. Similarly, Tapper reveals just enough of the killer’s victims that we feel we know them, but without giving us their life story. In fact, he reveals just enough of most of his characters that we can, at the very least, understand them, if not always necessarily like them.

One of the things that helped me warm to Cold Inside the most was the fact that Dan Blacksmith isn’t a “maverick” cop; he’s a good, smart, mostly by-the-book policeman, doing his job exactly as you might hope he would if there was a serial killer on the loose in your town.

Having lived through the ‘80s myself I also appreciated the evocation of the time. There’s no overt nostalgia or gushing reminiscences, instead it’s rather like I remember things, which is to say, like now but different. We’re only occasionally grounded in the period through offhand mentions of cars used, shops visited, brands mentioned, etc.

It’s actually quite an impressive trick, and Tapper pulls it off remarkably well.

He manages the same trick with place, too: there’s a sense of this being “your town” that’s very well managed. Although quite precisely located in the north of England the dialogue manages to evince a sense of locality without ever patronising the reader (resorting to what, in science fiction, would be called “infodumping”).

Characters don’t think about where or when they are, they just are. Again, it’s nicely done and the sign of a good, practised writer, in my humble opinion.

This science fiction reader was fascinated to discover how interesting and enthralling a crime thriller can be; my only fear now is that I’ve been spoiled by beginning with such a top-notch example of the genre.

Cold Inside is a tight thriller with a slight period flavour – and no help at all for insomniacs!

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