The new thriller from bestselling crime writer Tami Hoag, Cold Cold Heart, is really good: original, gripping, heartfelt. All the usual thrillery crime twists are there but what makes it really original is that the heroine, a young reporter, is suffering the physical, psychological and emotional effects of a violent kidnapping the year before the story lifts off. Dana has escaped a serial killer who, annoyed by her reporting of his exploits, had grabbed her. She dispatches him on the way, which results in a vehicle crash. The crash and the kidnapper’s treatment of her result in a year in a rehab unit. When Dana is released to go home she is still racked with bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, long and short-term memory loss, and she struggles to recognize family and childhood friends.
Once back in her hometown Dana (while trying to remember where in the house her childhood bedroom is, discovering the person she was from diaries and photos, leaving bath taps running and stove top elements on) is drawn to the mystery that inspired her to become a reporter, the disappearance of her best friend, Casey Grant, the summer after high school graduation. Everything and everyone begins to look suspicious to Dana, as she tries to sort out memories from fuzzy thinking, PTSD from immediate dangers. The reader starts to feel some of the stress, confusion and suspicion that Dana does – told from her point of view, all the characters are odd and frightening. It is particularly unsettling not to be able to tell who you should really be worried about, to know that there is something to be frightened of but unable to think clearly, and tiring to be constantly assessing whether Dana’s reactions are due to her brain injured perceptions or whether they are real.
Hoag does a really excellent job of depicting the terrifying, wearying, frustrating emotional and intellectual rollercoaster the effects of Dana’s injuries present for her, and her friends and family while they grieve for the loss of the person they knew, gone forever. The fact there is a mystery in the story is a bonus really, the tale of Dana’s construction of a new life, with brain injury, and its effects a constant, is fascinating, realistic and honestly, bravely written. It would actually be a very useful book to give to people wondering about brain injury and PTSD, or those touched by it in some way in their lives. I’d love to see another novel featuring Dana, in the meantime, this one would make a great movie.