Review: The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman


Title: The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands

Author: Jon Billman

Published: July 7th 2020, Grand Central Publishing

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Grand Central Publishing/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


“A person isn’t missing until they’re reported missing. Even then, if you’re over eighteen years old, going missing isn’t a crime or even an emergency.”

Conservative estimates put the number of missing persons whose last known location was somewhere in the wildlands of the United States at 1,600. I was astonished to learn that no one really keeps track of how many people have disappeared in the mountains, parks, forests, scrub or deserts across the country, and as such the real number is likely quite higher.

Some of the people reported missing may eventually found alive, perhaps disorientated, injured, or even living a new life elsewhere. Others may be recovered deceased days, weeks, months, even years after they disappeared, having met with some kind of misadventure. Some are never seen nor heard of again. Of particular interest to Billman are those cases where someone disappears under circumstances that suggest they should be easily found, like Jacob Gray, or conversely those that are found, alive or dead, after an improbable period or in unlikely locations, like Casey Hathaway.

Billman details a number of cases in The Cold Vanish, gathering information from relatives and/or friends, law enforcement officials, search and rescue personnel, and other interested parties. One of these is the case of Jacob Gray which the author repeatedly returns to throughout the narrative.

For seventeen months after Jacob Gray went missing in 2017, his red bicycle and hiking gear found by a river near the Olympic National Park in Washington, his father searched, traversing miles of river, trails, and streets both near and far from where he was last seen. Left in an agony of limbo, he was willing to consider every possible fate for his son from a mundane slip and fall, to abduction by a cult or a serial killer, to an encounter with a Bigfoot, if it meant he would find some answers. He followed up on every clue from vague sightings to psychic predictions.

Billman examines the factors that influence searches, not only delays in reporting but also, unsurprisingly, terrain and weather, as well as search personnel experience, bureaucracy, funding, and jurisdictional conflicts. The average official search period for a missing person in wild areas is five days, and the resources available vary widely between locations. Billman interviews expert trackers, search dog handlers, divers and advocates, and writes of his own participation in searches for the missing, accompanying both officials and volunteers.

With a well organised, well researched, and accessible narrative, Billman effectively communicates the facts, but also ensures the humanity of his subjects is never forgotten. I found The Cold Vanish to be both a fascinating and frightening read.


Available from Grand Central Publishing

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? | book'd out
  2. Helen Murdoch
    Jul 15, 2020 @ 12:20:10

    I assumed this is a novel, guess not! It sounds interesting and I cannot imagine not knowing what happened to a loved one.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    Jul 19, 2020 @ 22:49:20

    This sounds like a very interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Trackback: 2020 Nonfiction Reader Challenge: Monthly Spotlight #7 | book'd out

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