This harrowing wilderness adventure story, a first novel, features a refreshingly unlikely heroine: five-foot-one photographer Beryl, who must venture deep into the Canadian Arctic, fend off dozens of the world's largest land carnivores, and survive. The only daughter of elderly, over-protective Bostonians, Beryl lands the job of her dreams when Natural Photography magazine hires her to photograph the polar bears of Canada ``naturally''- -without a telescopic lens, separated from certain death only by the bars of a tiny iron cage set in the snow. Hired not for her talent or experience, but because she's the only applicant small enough to fit inside the cage, Beryl methodically prepares for her assignment by locking herself in the bedroom closet for hours each day. By the time she joins her fellow expedition members--David, a wise-cracking video cameraman who hates the cold; Butler, a macho nature writer; and Jean-Claude, their quiet young guide--Beryl believes she's quite ready to face the Far North's danger and sensory deprivation. In reality, she has no idea what's in store for her. In Churchill, where the bears gather every autumn to hunt on the frozen Hudson Bay, she barely survives her first hair- raising encounter with a bear while accompanying a policewoman on all-night patrol. The stakes increase as the team boards its state- of-the-art Arctic Traveler bus and ventures 40 miles into the wilderness, where Beryl climbs into her cage and takes pictures as hungry bears try to devour her. Facing her deepest fears, Beryl experiences spiritual as well as professional fulfillment, but her sessions are cut short when the ten-foot monsters chew the bus's fuel tanks to shreds, forcing its passengers to hike unprotected across the tundra in a desperate bid for warmth and shelter. Dramatically understated, yet offering several unforgettably vivid descriptions of wildlife encounters, this unusual novel offers high-caliber literary escapism.