“Hard Cold Winter” by Glen Erik Hamilton combines a mysterious plot with very powerful characters. Featured is Van Shaw, a former Army Ranger who must come to grips with making the transition from military to civilian life.
The major theme is trust. Hamilton explores how someone needs to depend on their friends and have confidence in their own choices. The plot begins with Van helping one of his late grandfather’s associates search for his high school acquaintance, Elana Call, in Seattle’s Olympic Mountains. What he finds instead is a brutal murder scene, including a victim from one of Seattle’s most influential families. He is caught in the middle of a confrontation between a billionaire and a drug cartel. On a mission to find the truth behind Elana’s disappearance, Van must trust his instincts to find a resolution.
Van’s life is a number of transitions, including trying to avoid joining the criminal world of his grandfather, and becoming a civilian after his Afghanistan deployments. He also wrestles with his own reemerging symptoms of PTSD caused during his combat days. A new character also suffers, former Army Ranger Leo Pak. The author explores the issue through the camaraderie they face, with each expressing their feelings, experiences, symptoms, and therapy.
The plot skillfully handles the real impact PTSD has on some veterans. Hamilton commented, “I did my homework. In addition to a lot of reading on the subject, including David Finkel’s excellent ‘Thank You For Your Service,’ I talked to Army vets and former Rangers about their own tours, how they thought about combat stress while active, and how that has changed since they’ve become civilians. Some of those soldiers were very open and honest about their issues and frustrations, and I owe them a great deal. There are no pat answers. As I mention in the book, there may be dozens of options for medical or psychological help, but navigating the system can be overwhelming. Some make it through and find what they need. Others don’t, or can’t.”
While there are similarities between Van and Leo, Hamilton contrasts Van and his girlfriend Luce Boylan. Both came from criminal families, but Luce chose the straight and narrow path, practically raising herself. On the other hand, Van relied on the military to keep him focused, but always seems to be drawn in with the criminal element.
“Van is working on the transition between the life he wants and the life he now has,” Hamilton said. “The next book will continue this storyline. He is trying to figure out his life without the military structure. He does not think of himself as a ‘war junkie’ but realizes he is not the type to sit at a desk forty hours a week. In the next book he tries to reconcile a balance between the criminal life of his past and his moral center.”
In “Hard Cold Winter” readers will learn more about what makes Van tick through an interesting backstory. This plot has likeable characters, a good mystery, and is informative about what combat veterans must face.