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Blessed with a title that seems more appropriate for a softcore, straight-to-video movie, Cold Night, Warm Stranger is a Western romance set in Montana and Wyoming. Quinn Lassiter, a gunfighter, stumbles into the Duncan Hotel in the middle of a blizzard. The only other person there is the proprietess, Maura Reed, who runs the place on the orders of her no-good but scary brothers. Both characters are lonely, in pain, and in need of solace, and they find it with each other that night. The rest of the book works out the results of that one night of passion.

Jill Gregory knows her stuff when it comes to the mechanics of writing romance. Her plot moves smoothly, developing external and internal conflict, character insights, and revelations at a good pace. Her secondary characters are well-handled while staying appropriately out of the limelight. Her dialogue flows well, and there are even some good funny lines. Maybe that is the problem. I never found myself truly involved with the story or the characters. There is nothing new in this book — every element of the story, from childhood trauma to vengeful enemies, sweet secondary romances to love scenes — has been done before, and done and done and done.

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To get around him, climbers and their guides, sucking oxygen through masks and double-clipped to a rope for safety, stripped off their puffy mittens. Some numbly treated the body as an obstacle. Others paused to make sense of what they saw — a twisted man still affixed to the rope, reclined on the slope as if he might continue climbing after waking from his awkward slumber. Apparently abandoned at his time of greatest need, he was a mute embodiment of their worst fears.

One climber stepped on the dead man and apologized profusely. Another saw the body and nearly turned around, spooked by the thought of his own worried family back home.

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Another paused on his descent to hold a one-sided conversation with the corpse stretched across the route. Mount Everest occupies a rare spot in the collective imagination — a misty mix of wonder, reverence and trepidation. Hundreds of people successfully and safely reach the summit most years and return home with inspirational tales of conquest and perseverance. Other stories detail the occasional tragedies that leave a few people dead in a typical year.


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Those disaster stories are now their own genre in books and film. Where most of those stories end is where this one begins, long after hope is gone — the quiet, desperate and dangerous pursuit, usually at the insistence of a distraught family far away, to bring the dead home.


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The only search is for some semblance of closure. That was why the Sherpas with their oxygen masks and ice axes had come this far, this high, more than a year later. The four Indian climbers, from a vibrant climbing culture in West Bengal, were like so many others attempting Everest. They saw the mountain as the ultimate conquest, a bucket-list item that would bring personal satisfaction and prestige. They dreamed of it for years and made it the focus of their training.

As motivation, they surrounded themselves with photographs of the mountain, from their Facebook pages to the walls of their homes. In other ways, however, they were different. Climbing Everest is an expensive endeavor, something to be both bought and earned. Many climbers are middle-aged Westerners — doctors, lawyers and other professionals — with the kind of wealth that the group from India could not fathom.

These four climbers measured monthly salaries in the hundreds of dollars. They borrowed money and sold off possessions simply for a chance. They cut costs and corners, because otherwise Everest was completely out of reach.

Ghosh shared an apartment with eight members of his extended family. Paresh Nath, 58, was a one-handed tailor who barely scraped by with his wife and young son. Hazra was a nurse, married and raising a son. They knew one another from the climbing circles of West Bengal, connected more by their common mission than strong friendships. About 5, people have reached the 29,foot 8,meter summit of Everest at least once since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary first did it in Nearly people have died on the mountain in that period, according to the Himalayan Database, which tracks such things.

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Nepal officials estimate that about bodies remain scattered across Everest. A few are so familiar, so well preserved by the subfreezing temperatures, that they serve as macabre mileposts for the living, including one corpse commonly called Green Boots. Most of the bodies are far out of sight. For them and those tasked with recovering the bodies — an exercise that can be more dangerous and far more costly than the expedition that killed the climber in the first place — the drama begins with death.

When someone dies, those left behind, from climbing partners on the scene to family and friends half a world away, are immediately faced with enormously daunting decisions and tasks. The rituals, customs and logistics of what happens next are always different. There are practical considerations, including whether to search for the bodies of those presumed missing or dead, if that is even feasible, and whether to recover the body or let it rest eternally where it is. There are emotional considerations, maybe cultural and religious ones, often in the name of closure, which can mean different things to different people.

There are the wishes of the deceased, if those were ever communicated. There are logistical concerns, including danger and cost, local customs and international laws. Sometimes, in some places, recovery of a body is not just wanted, it is needed, to prove a death so that benefits can be provided to a family in desperate need of financial support. All these things came into play after the bodies of three men from India were scattered high on Everest in The dim hopes for rescue kindled into demands for recovery, led by the West Bengal government.

They had neither the manpower nor the time. The first they found was Paul, the delivery driver and a part-time guitar instructor who lived with his sprawling family, including his wife and year-old daughter, in the small town of Bankura. He was steps from the well-worn route below Camp 4, roughly 26, feet above sea level. He was faceup, but only the toes of his boots stuck out of the fresh snow. It took four hours to chip and pry him from his icy grave and another 12 to drag him to Camp 2, where a helicopter carried the body to Base Camp.

The procession led to the banks of the Dwarakeswar River, where the body was cremated and the soul set free, according to Hindu tradition. There was heartache, but also closure.

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The Sherpas searched the abandoned tents, some shredded to ribbons by wind, until they found the body of another of the missing Indian climbers. They knew it was Nath, the tailor, because he had only one hand, the other lost in a childhood firecracker accident. Raging winds kept them from climbing any higher in search of Ghosh, and the men were called back. The summer monsoon was on the way, ending the climbing season.

Everyone rushed to pack up camp and get off the mountain.

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Ghosh and Nath, left dead in the death zone, would remain on Everest for at least a year, and maybe forever. The thought of Ghosh somewhere up there — alone and frozen, or maybe wandering around the Himalayas lost and crying into the wind for help — haunted his wife, his brothers, his mother and all those who lived in the cramped home off Old Calcutta Road, hundreds of miles away. Kolkata lies on the improbably flat and vast plain of the Hooghly River, a slow and wide offshoot of the Ganges in eastern India.

There is nothing, not even a hill, to poke the horizon, and the thought of a mountain like Everest feels as far away as another planet. And so his wife, Chandana, kept the vermilion sindoor in the part of her hair, and the red and white bangles on her right wrist, to indicate that she was a married woman. She would not remove them until she was certain she was a widow. She left the calendar on the wall of the bedroom turned to May In her mind, that was when time stopped. I am the married wife to Goutam Ghosh. Not a widow. Unless I see him, and we cremate him, I will not change.

She and Nath were poor, even by Indian standards, and she had no money to bring the body home. She and her husband never spoke about what to do if he died, but now she convinced herself that he would want to be left on the mountain. He dreamed about Everest so much that a photo of the mountain was one of the few things that decorated the chipped concrete walls of their bedroom. The two of them sat side by side through countless nights sewing backpacks and jackets to sell to support his quest.

People in town marveled at his ability to cut and sew with just one hand, just as climbers wondered how he could navigate the ropes and harnesses used in mountaineering. Sabita let herself imagine that she might awake and find him sitting behind his sewing machine. Death feels like hearsay. Only the body coming through the door at home could make it something more than a haunting phantom in the imagination. Its return could bring honor and closure. It might not answer all the questions, but it could end the nightmares.

But even if it could happen, even if the bodies of Ghosh and Nath were found where they were last seen, and even if impossibly huge sums could be raised to pay to recover them, and even if there were people willing to risk their own lives on Everest to honor the dead and appease the living, nothing could happen right now.