JOHN RECTOR – The Cold Kiss. Forge, hardcover, July 2010; paperback, May 2011.

   This one reminded me in a good many ways of the Gold Medal paperbarks of the 1950s and early 60s, only brought up to date in (to me) a not entirely satisfactory fashion. It begins just fine, with Nate and Sara (not married) picking up a stranger while on the road from Minnesota to Reno.

   The stranger appears ill, or they wouldn’t have picked him up. What they didn’t expect was that he would die on them. Or that when they look in his suitcase they find two million dollars in cash. What do they do? What would you do?

   Especially when they’re stranded in a motel along the highway in a blizzard, with phone lines down, the electricity out (there is gas heat) and no way to contact the authorities, even if they wanted to.

   There are other refugees from the storm stranded there, totally isolated from the outside world. The owner of the motel seems strange but OK. The owner’s nephew seems only strange. As things develop, it turns out that Nate has a criminal record and Sara is pregnant. There is more, but why should I tell you everything?

   Reston has a smooth tight way of telling the story, and the first half is a doozy. There was one point around two in the morning when I simply had to shut the book down for the night, so intense it was.

   I was OK with the ending, but some of the reviewers on Amazon weren’t, a minority, to be sure, and yet I’m not so sure that they might not be right. But what makes this book not a keeper for me, though, is not the ending so much, but rather that — given this absolutely top notch and A-One firing-on-all-cylinders beginning — there is a point beyond which the tone of the book changes, giving what most neo-noir readers seem to want, if not relish, in their reading material today.

   You may wish me to say more, but I won’t, other than to add that I’m old-fashioned. I’m happier with the sort of on-the-edge-of-the-chair suspense that’s created by an author like Cornell Woolrich, say, a writer who fills your mind with images of your own making, rather than one who brings them to life in vivid reality, so to speak, even though Rector may be the better writer.

   Please don’t take this as a warning to not read the book. This book may be exactly what you’re looking for, and if you didn’t know about it before, then my job is done.