After months of grieving his girlfriend’s irreparable injury in an accident, photojournalist Michael Wilde finally takes a new assignment — to spend a month at the South Pole and document the experience for Eco-Travel Magazine. Within days, he’s on the journey that will get him there — via airplane, Coast Guard cutter, and helicopter.
It’s hardly a hospitable environment, nor one for casual travelers. But Michael, who has always relished rugged settings, appreciates the challenge, as well as the change of pace. He meets the scientists and staffers who work at the research station Point Adelie and gets a feel for their personalities and the day-to-day pace of an unbelievably cold but always sunlit austral summer. He gets into a groove, taking photos and making notes; but then on a dive with a marine biologist into the frozen waters, he makes a strange and chilling discovery — two bodies frozen into a block of ice. But finding these bodies, and bringing them to the surface, is only the first in a gruesome chain of discoveries that brings terror to the station.
Robert Masello’s story alternates between the current day, with Michael’s situation, and the mid-1800s, with the story of the couple who lie entombed in the waters of the Antarctic. A pall of tragedy hangs over both tales, of loves who are lost but not gone. The book balances very nicely history, science, travel, and a fantastical element into one whole that’s basically a thriller, but not a generic one. Masello’s writing style is terrific — he has clearly done some in-depth research and makes all of the details of a current-day trip to the South Pole interesting and vivid — and he avoids the temptation of making every tense scene into a fighting showdown, keeping the plot from being predictable. His characters are sympathetic, not one-dimensional action heroes/villains/damsels in distress, and their story arcs are satisfying. Hurrah to Masello for crafting a page-turner that doesn’t resort to cheap thrills or standard endings.
Rated: High, for language and some brief sexual content. There are about 10 uses of strong language, and a relative sprinkling of mild and moderate language. The novel is almost 500 pages long, however, so language use throughout doesn’t seem heavy-handed or gratuitous. The book really “feels” more like a “moderate.”