Friday, August 22, 2008

The Wind Chill Factor by Thomas Gifford

The Wind Chill Factor by Thomas Gifford
Ballantine, Copyright 1975

I am not I;
he is not he;
they are not they.

In the 70s, you couldn't pass a book rack without seeing a few novels about surviving Nazis or a group trying to bring the Reich back in power. These were the days before skinheads or swastika-tattooed headbangers; when we were reading fiction of intrigue about organized evil waiting to spring up and return the "glory" of the old Fatherland. The reading audience were adults that lived through WWII and their baby-boomer children; the theme was a hit and authors provided them with suspenseful plots involving attempts to return sleeper neo-Nazi organizations into power. There were plenty of good ones, but Thomas Gifford's debut novel may have been the best of the bunch.

Half of his head was gone, one whole side: no eye, no cheek, no ear, strings of frozen matter protruding stiffly from the stump of throat and the pellet-chewed shoulder... I picked up the shotgun I'd used. We began to walk back to the house.

John Cooper gets a urgent telegram from his brother to return to their hometown of Cooper Falls in Minnesota. Upon arrival, he finds his brother dead and mysterious acquaintances of the family are there to "assist" him. Secret family documents are found and then stolen, which coincide with townspeople being murdered,
along with the destruction of public buildings. Eventually attempts are made on Cooper's life and he is determined to find out what his brother discovered and how it is related to his family's mysterious past. The family legacy takes John Cooper to Buenos Aires-Glasgow-London-Munich and back to his hometown, along the way unraveling hidden secrets that when finally exposed, brings mounting burden for him as he struggles to understand his family's cognitive integrity. This all leads to a rising Nazi terror organization called Die Spinne, and it's past involvement with Washington, London, and Cooper's family.

"Everything I believe in has been proven a lie, everything I had ever looked to as an anchor in my life. Nothing is what it seemed. There's just nothing left."

High suspense and intrigue is the game here, and wonderfully delivered by a master storyteller. The machinery is in play to bring a Fourth Reich into power, and this time they have learned from their mistakes. But there is a struggle between the old Nazi guard and the upcoming new younger order; causing people to be silenced and unexpected alliances to be made. We take a worldwide journey with John Cooper, an average American who uncovers the deeply hidden history of his family that no man would suspect-a nest full of rattling, hissing Nazis, which included his grandfather, father, and lost little sister. Cooper, even when surrounded by people, is really alone, and he's a frightened man as he discovers the truth-that no one is what they make out to be. And
as readers, all we are left with is sympathy for him- no more- because now he has nothing. He is left empty.

A tight high driving plot, along with bittersweet empathy for John Cooper-an amazing novel. Since his death in 2000, Thomas Gifford has become a forgotten author. This is a shame, he has a fine bibliography of international crime thrillers and in my opinion wrote the best neo-Nazi rebirth novel with "The Wind Chill Factor."


pattinase (abbott) said...

Will the Nazis ever cease being fodder for crime fiction? I hope not less we forget. It's just the writers that disappear.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

That cover design wouldn't work today - and yet, as you say, at the time this book was published the people reading were often the folk who went through the real war. Guess that's why I like old paperbacks - they ain't been touched by the PC brigade.

August West said...

Good point, This book really stuck me-especially the ending paragraph when John Cooper is "reflecting on a shadow in the window," -that being his lost sister or the lost innocence of his family that he once knew. Frederick Forsyth's "The Odessa File" and Ira Levin's "The Boys from Brazil" are very good, but Thomas Gifford's novel is exceptional....


Lee Goldberg said...

I loved that book, too. He wrote another one that I recall as being just as good...THE CAVANAUGH QUEST.

August West said...

Lee: Right you are. I hope Thomas Gifford doesn't fade away as an author. His work should be remembered and read.

John Kelly said...

Thomas Gifford's "The Wind Chill Factor" and "The Cavanaugh Quest" were two of the best thrillers that I read in the seventies. Great plots and great characters. It's a shame he didn't get more recognition.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your good, and useful review.
I would suggest:
Paul Manning († 1995) Martin Bormann - Nazi in Exile 1981
Please, read the review: The Unvarnished Truth, April 5, 2002 By John C. Sanders
This review is from: Martin Bormann: Nazi in Exile (Hardcover)
Howard Blum (born 1948) Wanted!: The Search for Nazis in America 1976 Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co.
Eric Frattini (born 1963) El oro de Mefisto 2010. (not really a super book, in my opinion)

Ross Dennis said...

A fabulous author...not forgotten by avid readers. I (quite literally) have read the cover off The Cavanaugh Quest and have now very happily started purchasing and reading his other books including the Wind Chill Factor which should arrive to me next week. Very clever plot writing and narrative style.

Anonymous said...

I knew Tom since I was a kid. My mother would take me over to his mother Mable's home and I would often play the violin for her and the her beloved Siamese cat Princess. He always treated me like I was #1, even as a kid. As I grew older and read his work, I never realized how brilliant he was. I just knew him as "Giff", that big guy that was super cool and always made me laugh!