Murder stalks the South Pole in this near-miss thriller.
From February to October, the Amundsen-Scott research base totally shuts down: nothing goes in, nothing goes out. “Like living in a submarine,” weatherman Jed Lewis is warned as he disembarks the plane and adds himself to the Amundsen-Scott roster. Twenty-six staffers, eighteen men and eight women, are assigned to maintain equipment and keep tabs on temperatures that can plunge to 110 below. And not one of these “winter-overs”—well, maybe one—could have possibly imagined the horrors just around the corner. In a terrifyingly short period of time, murder shrinks the base company to 16, and unhappily for Jed the killings are dramatically coincident with his arrival. No surprise, then, that in a society as closed and intense as this, last-in should become first-suspected, the designated scapegoat. Protestations of innocence are ignored. Exculpatory evidence gains Jed nothing. And it's true, he does have a secret. Geologist Jed has been sent to a place where there is no geology to bring off a hush-hush meeting with astronomer Michael Moss, the base's star scientist. Moss has found a rock where rocks never are, except those that land as the result of a meteor shower. If, as Moss hopes, this particular fragment originated on Mars, then its value as a collectible begins in the multimillions. Are the murders motivated by greed? If not, then what? Tempers fray, the winter seems endless, Ned falls farther out of favor but in love with a winsome nerd. The overly delayed denouement, however, falls flat.
When the Pulitzer Prize–winning science writer turns to fiction (Ice Reich, 1998, etc.), the authenticity of his settings is always a plus. It's his cardboard characters that continue to let him down.