A Cold Day in Hell
by Ken Rand
Edited by Vera Nazarian
Review by Don Smith
Norilana Books ISBN/ITEM#: 9781934648896
Date: 01 February 2008
A television evangelist leads a group of street people - bums, hobos and the homeless - into levitating a Las Vegas casino and restaurant named Hell that has been recently built by the eccentric billionaire Mark Trane.
The first third of the book is told around several people: a homeless man nicknamed Dog who is more or less a street level community leader who sneaks into Hell's restaurant (before it is opened to the public) for food; Lois, the single mother who works security in Hell; Trane, the billionaire who made his fortune off owning amusement parks and traveling carnivals and suffers from a severe speech impediment; Miss Roberta Ripley, Trane's "right hand man" who is having an affair - in the company van - with a local policeman's wife; and Joe, Lois's boss, who is on the hunt to find the culprit stealing food from Trane's restaurant.
It is from each of their perspectives the story of Hell's first earthquake is told and the aftermath that follows. Ultimately leading to the bums and the television evangelist causing a second earthquake when it appears the casino is actually levitated.
And in the second third of the book, Rand introduces Percy Oswald, the previously mentioned television evangelist on the hunt for miracles. Decades earlier, Oswald was involved in a car accident and a woman was trapped under a van. A bum comes out of nowhere and raises the van - just with a wave of his hands - allowing Oswald to save the woman.
And after the first earthquake, he believes God wants him to go to Las Vegas and, literally, raise Hell.
What Rand attempts to do is a tell a tale filled with quirky characters similar to an Elmore Leonard or a Carl Hiassen novel, but Rand writes in a minimalist style similar to that of Fletch writer Gregory McDonald.
The problem with this style is that characters are left underdeveloped and intricate plot points are forgotten because. Rand will spends one chapter with one character, and then jump immediately to the next character's point of view in the next chapter. Interesting characters like Lois the single mother or the billionaire Mark Trane are left forgotten while pointless persons - like another homeless crusader Teresa Santiago - are given more face time then needed.
And other pertinent character points are forgotten until later chapters. For example, when Dog is first introduced, he is just an average homeless bum. It is not until several chapters later, that Rand mentions Dog was a media savvy rabble rouser seeking to get attention for the plight of the homeless.
Also, the idea of this being a supernatural/science fiction tale is not introduced until 90 pages into the book when Percy Oswald steps on scene. And even then it is not until several chapters after this, when there is a brief mention of 1960s personality Abbie Hoffman attempting to levitate the Pentagon with 50,000 protestors in 1967 and how it plays out in A Cold Day in Hell .
But reading about levitation in a book, especially filled with underdeveloped characters, is not as much fun as it could be. Heck, George Lucas got rich off of that concept. And viewers got cool laser sword fighting and neat intergalactic dog fights to compensate for the underdeveloped characters.
Not this time.
Either this book needed less characters, or it needed another 50 to 100 pages of development.