I knew that when I accepted the offer to read Trailed, a true crime novel about two women murdered in Shenandoah National Park that I was probably on a true crime path of no return, but not all true stories are true crime. Some true stories are just true sad stories.
Blurb: These are the stories that defy conventional logic. The proverbial vanished without a trace incidences, which happen a lot more (and a lot closer to your backyard) than almost anyone thinks. These are the missing whose situations are the hardest on loved ones left behind. The cases that are an embarrassment for park superintendents, rangers and law enforcement charged with Search & Rescue. The ones that baffle the volunteers who comb the mountains, woods and badlands. The stories that should give you pause every time you venture outdoors.
Through Jacob Gray’s disappearance in Olympic National Park, and his father Randy Gray who left his life to search for him, we will learn about what happens when someone goes missing. Braided around the core will be the stories of the characters who fill the vacuum created by a vanished human being. We’ll meet eccentric bloodhound-handler Duff and R.C., his flagship purebred, who began trailing with the family dog after his brother vanished in the San Gabriel Mountains. And there’s Michael Neiger North America’s foremost backcountry Search & Rescue expert and self-described “bushman” obsessed with missing persons. And top researcher of persons missing on public wildlands Ex-San Jose, California detective David Paulides who is also one of the world’s foremost Bigfoot researchers.
It’s a tricky thing to write about missing persons because the story is the absence of someone. A void. The person at the heart of the story is thinner than a smoke ring, invisible as someone else’s memory. The bones you dig up are most often metaphorical. While much of the book will embrace memory and faulty memory—history—The Cold Vanish is at its core a story of now and tomorrow. Someone will vanish in the wild tomorrow. These are the people who will go looking.
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In Trailed the author mentioned how many people go missing in National Parks; in The Cold Vanish that number is brought home by names and dates and more statistics. Author Jon Billman follows the case of cyclist, Jacob Gray, whose bike and substantial gear were found next to a river in Washington State’s Olympic National Park. What follows is not only a search for Jacob, but almost a catalog of the huge number of missing and sometimes solved and sometimes unsolved cases throughout the National Park system.
At times while reading The Cold Vanish, I felt overwhelmed. I had to backtrack to follow names and dates and places. And maybe that’s the point. There are so many names and dates and places. People go missing, sometimes without a trace, which nourishes all types of conspiracy theories that a reader can almost begin to believe. How can this person go missing a short distance from his hiking mates with no sign of his departure?
The author parades Big Foot stories and psychic stories and alien stories without (much) judgment because at a certain point logic doesn’t seem to prevail. And those kids who say that a bear took them and kept them warm and fed them? What if it IS Bigfoot? Or maybe it really is a kind bear.
My attention was also caught by the place where people disappeared and where Native Americans had long ago decided not to venture. A portal? Evil? What exactly? And, maybe you don’t believe, but . . .
A stupefying number of statistics float by but one of the worst to read was that Montana has a Native American population of 7% but they account for over 30+% of the state’s missing–Native American women and children.
The stories cover many states, mostly western including Hawaii, but the story always comes back to Jacob.
Jacob’s father, Randy, is without a doubt the hero of this story. He thinks about his son constantly; he searches for his son constantly. He keeps his son alive and dreams about sharing those morning mochas that were their thing and going surfing and doing all the things they did in their before time. He’s a good, spiritual person who “never lies” about anything even the couple of avocadoes in the back of the camper as he and Jon cross over into Canada. As a reader and human being, I wanted Randy to be right, to have those happily ever after moments with Jacob.
The Cold Vanish is a story where you can get lost among all of the missing and sometimes there’s not much hope, but it is eye opening and well written and edifying and sometimes, although not often, the stories have a happy ending, like life, I guess.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.