By backgrounding aspects of a fiction, they can be emphasised more than were they to be foregrounded; so when historical research is over-presented—e.g. we’re reminded a book is set during the Battle of Actium by characters obtrusively commenting on period-specific markers—verisimilitude can be counterintuitively weakened; whereas confidence with historical research allows an author to seamlessly blend pertinent indicators into the narrative, where they become the more apparent. Jennifer Young’s Cold Crash demonstrates just such a confidence in its treatment of early fifties Britain and the life of pioneering archaeologist Maxine ‘Max’ Falkland. What is so impressive about the Cold War novel is that it does not need to embellish its setting and time. It transports you as much into the presuppositions of the decade as its surroundings (with beautiful descriptive prose), geopolitics, immediate history and percolating (often still relevant) prejudices. And because the world of the past is never presented clumsily or exaggerated, character and narrative are freed to direct the story to more interesting places.
Cursorily, Cold Crash is a thriller-mystery with overtones of conspiracy. Framed by fieldwork on a Viking ship in Mull, Scotland, there is malfunctioning equipment on underwater excavations, mysterious problems with Max’s plane and three enigmatic men (John Knox, Angus MacDonald and Richard Ash) with their own agendas. Confidence and trust is won and lost with intimations of Soviet plotting muddled by missteps and misunderstandings. But what makes the book so singularly impressive is its protagonist, who is conflicted about the loss of her brother in the Korean War, hemmed in by the misogyny of her peers, contending with the expectations of her American mother and established English father. She arises from these intersecting pressures of family, career and gender as a complex, subtle and autonomous character; one able to propel the plot and with whom it is interesting to become acquainted. From proleptic prologue to resolution, the pace is maintained as the suspenseful events take you to a finale that obeys a story-logic that becomes apparent. By the final page, the reader will want to know even more of Max and her adventures.
Jennifer Young’s Cold Crash is available from Cinnamon Press and Amazon; it is a highly worthwhile read.