Barry Hammond’s Cold Front – Canada’s Rarest Horror Paperback?

Cold Front -Barry Hammond
Signet -1982

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. You have seen that cover show up on this blog before.┬áValancourt books used that artwork on their 2019 edition of Thomas Page’s The Spirit. (If you’ve seen the original artwork for that one you’ll understand why.) Two books sharing the same cover is not unheard if in the world of paperback horror, but Cold Front is an anomaly. This book is so rare that there was recently a thread on reddit about whether it still exists or not. There’s lots of rare horror paperbacks, but copies of The Voice of the Clown, Eat Them Alive, Chainsaw Terror and the Halloween novelisation are out there; they’re just really expensive. Cold Front is different. There are 5-6 known copies in existence. The rest of the scant information about this book online suggests that it is a lost classic, a surprisingly well written nightmare that has almost disappeared.

Adding to the allure is the fact that the book is supposed to be extremely Canadian. I have no proof of this, but as far as I know, Cold Front was only ever available in Canada, hence its rarity. Now I don’t know about you, but there’s little in the world that excites me more than a mysterious, rare, horror paperback, smothered in maple syrup. I had to read this one.

As I write this, there is actually a copy of Cold Front for sale on ebay for $3000. I didn’t pay quite that much, but I had to make a bunch of calls, barter with strange Canucks and then travel across the Great White North to procure a copy. The whole process took 4 months, but last week, I finally got my hands on one of the last remaining copies of this bizarre little book.

Cold Front is only 150 pages long. The first two thirds are entertaining but largely predictable. Three low-lifes kill their boss after a night of drinking. They stash his corpse and his cash box into their car and drive away into a storm. When they wake up the next morning, they find themselves broken down in the middle of nowhere and then notice that the body is missing from the trunk of their car. Concerned and cold, they walk until they find a cabin with a smoking chimney. When they enter they find a beautiful, half naked woman alone.

And that is where the predictable part of this story ends. As the tagline on the back cover says, “You might pity the girl, trapped in a snowbound cabin in the Canadian wilderness with three savage fugitives from the law. But you would be wrong.” I won’t give any spoilers, but I will say that the last 50 or so pages of this book are mental. This changes from a gritty crime novel to a blood-soaked, supernatural nightmare.

I can confirm that most of the stuff you’ve read about this novel is true. Cold Front is a fast paced, well written, absolutely bonkers, horror novel. It is a great shame that more people haven’t had the chance to read it.

This book is infamously rare, but unlike some rare paperback horror novels, this one is rare (at least in part) because of its reputation as being a good book. I couldn’t help but wonder why it has not been republished. The fact that Valancourt books used its cover for another book proves that Cold Front was on their radar at some point. They confirmed this in a different thread on reddit about the book, where they stated that “The art for The Spirit was not available to use and there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued. We purchased the rights for the Cold Front art.” How would they know that there were no plans for Cold Front to be reissued if they hadn’t looked into reissuing it at some point? It seems fairly safe to assume that Hammond turned them down.

Why would an author do this? Well, this is pure speculation, but I have a theory. Barry Hammond is still active in the world of Canadian literature. He’s currently the poetry editor for On Spec, “the Canadian magazine of the fantastic”. Canada has changed quite a lot since Cold Front was published in 1982, particularly with how people think about the experiences and representation of the Indigenous and First Peoples of Canada. One of the main characters in this book is an Indigenous Canadian and a violent alcoholic. There are another two Indigenous characters who come across no better, and none of this is contextualized by addressing the horrible shit that Indigenous people in Canada would have lived through at the time when this book was written. This wouldn’t go down well today. In fairness, Hammond has to have been a fairly young man when he wrote this, and in 1982, most Canadians supposedly didn’t know about the utterly abhorrent shit that their government was doing to First Nations peoples. Again, this is pure speculation, but if Hammond is the type of guy he seems to be (and remember, he’s the poetry editor for a literary magazine), I reckon he’s happy enough to let this book remain obscure and mysterious. If this is the case, that’s actually pretty cool (and very Canadian) of him.

There are some heinous racial slurs used at one point, but the characters in this novel are definitely the kind of guys who would use racial slurs. The swearing throughout is generally delightful. I think it’s the second chapter that opens up with the phrase, “Holy Cock!” All this profanity made the book feel a bit like a Trailer Park Boys Halloween special. I mean that in a positive way.

Cold Front is definitely of its era, but if you’re able to look past its faults, it’s very entertaining. It’s only 150 pages, so I got through it in a couple of sittings. If you ever find a copy of this bizarre Canadian masterpiece, read it immediately.