A nasty little piece of skullduggery made all the more so by the fact this fictional tale is based on real events in the author’s life.
When the Great Chilean Earthquake shook the country in 1960, it knocked the roof off the Chilean Central Bank in Talcahuano and millions of dollars in cash, gold, negotiable securities and jewelry were stolen. In Cohen’s tale, the culprits are two Chilean Navy seamen who are sent to protect the bank but stash the loot in a refrigerator instead. (In order to encourage service in Antarctica, members of the Chilean military are allowed to import white goods without the ruinous taxes as long as the goods travel with them to Antarctica first.) Thus the two thieves encounter an expedition sent to the Antarctic by the University of Wisconsin. Ted Stone is part of the expedition, and Stone is Cohen’s fictional stand in. In the neatly blocked out story that follows, it’s fun to try to discern the real stuff from the fictionalized. Probably most of it is true, including three grisly murders and a near-death experience for Cohen, but there is no doubt about the veracity of the expedition’s atmosphere, ably drawn and suitably paced. The entire route from Madison, Wis., to the Antarctic Peninsula is followed, with special attention paid to the hellacious storms at sea amid the powerful Shrieking Sixties winds and the potentially dangerous fieldwork where, if orcas don’t upend your boat and gobble you down before you get to your destination, you’ll likely fall in a crevasse when you arrive. Cohen doesn’t overdue the science, though he does introduce his gravity-related research and elements of his geological-specimen gathering, as well as a short course in amateur radio operation, clearly a hobby of the author’s, though also critical to the unfolding of events. The book has some mild quirks that interfere with the story’s flow—odd uses of italics and quote marks, strange footnotes—but the greatest mystery of all is why Cohen has put the story down on paper, when there may be many dangerous characters still out there.
An intriguing look at the surprisingly perilous life of a geologist.