Written by Craig Smith — It’s taken a while for us to get round to reviewing Craig Smith’s Cold Rain, which was published late last year, but given its long listing for the CWA’s Ian Fleming Steal Dagger Award, we thought now was as good time as any to appraise its many villainous virtues.
Smith’s novel is a tale of a stable living taking a fast turn for the worse. His main character, Dr David Albo, has found himself the good life, teaching English at a Midwest university and living in a beautiful and remote farmhouse with his wife and daughter. Things are, after a bout of alcoholism, on the up.
Then Smith turns this genteel vision on its head, beginning with the revelations of sexual harassment and an affair with a student. Albo protests his innocence, to his school, wife, lawyers and us the readers. While those around him encourage him to accept responsibility, apologise, take the hit and get on with life after a ticking off, Albo fights on to clear his name. A professional misdemeanour then quickly spirals out of control culminating in a murder and clear conspiracy – but is Albo telling the truth and being set up? He’s convinced he is, and so sets about attempting to discover who is framing him and threatening his way of life.
Smith’s writing is terrific. It’s sparse when it needs to be in order to maintain pace, and detailed when called for. His characterisation is perfectly balanced, too. Minor characters have just enough detail to make them believable without feeling dwelt upon. His main characters are gradually built up (or down, in Albo’s case) revealing facets of personality, rather than a series of back-story dumps that so often hamper crime fiction writing. Smith portrays Albo’s descent from a happy but troubled professional to a man desperate for survival quite brilliantly. Reading it, you’ll start getting to know Albo and as you find his life you’ll begin questioning his integrity as revelations begin to unravel, but you’ll also end up fighting his corner, willing him along. Smith really knows how to develop a character without disrupting the story arch – it’s a rare writing power.
Then there are the plot twists. So many of them that it’s almost impossible to leave the book at the end of a chapter. They’re unforced and believable twists, too, that benefits from Smith’s trim writing style.
Yes it’s taken some time for us to get around to reading Cold Rain. But now we have, we certainly know what all of the fuss is about.
CFL Rating: 4 stars