Cold Remains is the sixth novel by Sally Spedding, well-known in Britain for her chilling thrillers, hovering on the intersections between crime, horror, mystery, the historical and the paranormal. Increasingly read in the U.S., she is a writer to reckon with, to dive into if you can handle truly creepy thrillers, to avoid if you want to curl up with a cosy mystery.
Sally Spedding is tough, as a writer, a thinker, an observer of the human race. She is a top-notch narrator, and in Cold Remains she tells a shocking story, set in the present day in her native Wales, but harking back to the post-war years in rural Carmarthenshire, a Welsh county of great natural beauty, shading off in this novel to the horrors that lie beneath its verdant surface.
These horrors are filtered through into the present by the tormented soul of a girl who lived and died in that earlier time--yes, certainly, a ghost who intervenes in the action of the novel. But this is not a ghost story set in the unreal landscape of someone’s imagination. No, like all Spedding’s novels, it is a narrative firmly rooted in reality, in the real life of present-day Britain where people, very much including the two main protagonists, are struggling to survive in increasingly uncertain economic circumstances.
But ghosts there are. The Prologue to the novel, a one-page sustained moment of horror, experienced by a young woman on Christmas Eve, 1946, introduces in classic Spedding style the mystery that underlies the plot, and that will gradually, very gradually, be revealed as the plot unfolds. The Prologue entices us into the story; we do not know what to make of it, whether we can trust the narrator to be telling the truth of what happened, the truth as seen by the young woman, or a version of the truth deliberately created by her. But we want to know. Our curiosity is aroused, and we do not forget that Prologue although it is left hanging mysteriously in the air of 1946 while the narrative of the novel picks up in our own time, March 2009.