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March 5, 2012
Book Review by Mark Pulham
For many of us, the death of one of our children is inconceivable. Most of us would agree that there is nothing worse. It is an unimaginable tragedy, something that we cannot picture getting over. But, as anyone who has lost a loved one knows, a healing process begins. A funeral is held, a time for grieving passes, and if time does not exactly heal old wounds, it does dull their pain.
But, as John Leake’s new book Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery shows, there is something worse for a parent. What if your child was missing? The grieving process cannot begin and the passing of time does not lessen the pain. Instead, there is uncertainty, the parent remains in limbo, and they cannot move past.
Cold a Long Time presents the story of Duncan MacPherson, a professional ice hockey player from Saskatoon, who had played for the Saskatoon Blades and the Springfield Indians. He dreamed of joining the NHL, but it was not to be. At 23 years old, he had numerous injuries, and he was not quite as fast as some of the others, and when his contract expired, he was released. But showing grace and maturity during an interview, he didn’t express anger or bitterness, just acknowledged that it wasn’t meant to be.
Duncan was offered a job as coach for the Dundee Tigers Hockey team in Dundee, Scotland. Although the owner of the team was a little shady, Duncan accepted. Before he joined the team, Duncan decided to take some time for himself and visit some friends in Europe.
On August 7, 1989, Duncan was in Nuremburg where he borrowed a friend’s car, intending to be back by August 11 to catch his flight to Scotland. He told his parents, Lynda and Bob, that he would call them from Scotland on August 14.
That call never came. Days passed with no word from Duncan, and when the phone did finally ring, it wasn’t their son, but one of his friends telling them that he never made it to Scotland. The last anyone saw of him was on August 9, when he went snowboarding at a popular ski resort on the Stubai Glacier near Innsbruck, Austria.
And so the nightmare began for Lynda and Bob MacPherson, a nightmare that would span 20 years. What had happened to their son? The question itself is a simple one, but as with many simple questions, the answer was complex. Was he dead? Did he have amnesia? If he was dead, then how did he die? And where was the body? Was there another explanation?
Cold a Long Time tells the compelling story of Lynda and Bob’s unrelenting quest to discover what happened to their son. Leake documents their decision to go to Austria themselves and look for Duncan, a quest that met with little success. Leake’s skillful writing presents a portrait of two people who show strength and determination in a situation that would have left most of us crushed and unable to function effectively.
It was clear that something had happened to Duncan, and that he had not, as one police official suggested, met a girl and had gone off with her. When Lynda pointed out that Duncan had not cashed a traveler’s check for almost three weeks, the official added that the girl must be rich as well.
Although Duncan and his mysterious disappearance is the focus of the book, the central character is Lynda MacPherson. Leake’s exceptional writing allows us to feel her pain and her sorrow, but we also feel her willpower, her resolve, and above all, her self control. This is clearly a woman who will not give up until the truth is uncovered.
This is also the story of how a group of people also came together with an equal determination, one that is frustrating and infuriating, a determination that the MacPhersons would be foiled at their attempts to discover what really happened to their son. With each move the MacPhersons made to find out the truth of their son’s fate, those who should have been helping the distressed parents decided instead to play a role in covering up what happened. One man seemed to be very helpful, a man who became a friend and tried to help as much as possible. But even he was duplicitous, and his friendship hid more of the truth. Did Duncan have an accident? If that were so, then why were people hiding things, what was their motive? John Leake’s book makes it clear that there is a deeper mystery here.
Cold a Long Time is written with great clarity, and we are taken through the MacPhersons’ ordeal from the moment they realize something must be wrong to their arrival in Austria. We read of how they meet with people who are outwardly friendly and seem to be helping, but as time passes, we realize that what they are saying is not the truth and it becomes clear that they are covering up something.
When the MacPhersons asked John Leake to write the book, they not only got a great writer, they also got a great investigative journalist. Cold a Long Time is the result of more than two years of research and investigation into what happened, and Leake’s pursuit of the truth sheds a bright and revealing light on the mystery, and finally gives the MacPhersons what they asked for, an answer to what happened to their son.
As with Leake’s previous book, Entering Hades, he has meticulously researched his subject and produced an excellently written account of the MacPhersons’ struggle to learn the truth. He conveys the dignity in which the MacPhersons conducted themselves in the face of unhelpful bureaucrats, not only Austrian but also Canadian, who were more concerned with protecting their own interests rather than helping a grieving mother and father who only wanted to know what happened.
This is an emotional book. We feel their frustration as police, coroners, and officials conceal what may have happened, openly discourage them from continuing their search, and lie and obstruct them at each turn. This is a compelling book.
Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery by John Leake.
John Leake, Author
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