Ice Reich

As I said in my review of Available Dark, I don’t read a lot of straight up mysteries and suspense novels these days. (Though, when I was young, I read almost all the Alastair Maclean oeuvre.)

However, I did read one in January 2001 and reviewed it.

I understand Mr. Dietrich has won a Pulitzer and has gone on to great success with his Ethan Gage series — which looks interesting but opportunity costs make it unlikely I’ll ever read them.

Review: Ice Reich, William Dietrich, 1998.Ice Reich

I wanted to like this novel. I wanted a lurid tale of Nazis in the Antarctica, up to no good with a super weapon or maybe establishing the beginnings of that secret base that, according to an old Police Gazette issue, Hitler fled to after the war. When I found out that Dietrich grafted a fictional plot on to the actual 1938 Nazi expedition to the frozen continent, I was fine with that too. I always wondered what they were up to down there.

Bush pilot Owen Hart takes up a Nazi offer to return to Antarctica, site of a former expedition whose failure some blame him for. Ambitious Nazi Jurgen Drexler has talked the Nazi hierarchy into leading an expedition south to stake Third Reich claims in the Antarctic and research the feasibility of whaling there, whale oil being a strategic war material. In December 1938, the expedition departs. Besides the usual support types of sailors and pilots, the expedition includes Drexler, Hart, a sinister Nazi doctor, some SS alpine troops for muscle, and one Greta Heinz, “polar biologist”. Heinz’s possesses questionable qualifications. She’s Drexler’s girlfriend, not a noted scientist.

The book starts slow. Things don’t start to take off until over a hundred pages into the book with a violent encounter between the Nazis, bent on asserting their territorial claims in southern waters, and a Norwegian whaling vessel. Crippled in the encounter, the ship limps into the bay of an island where the grisly effects of a new plague organism are on display.

The rest of the novel is taken up with Drexler scheming to use the plague as a weapon and Hart scheming to become Heinz’s lover.

I did like a couple of things in this book. The structure, where Hart’s visits to Atropos Island are separated by most of WWII, was pleasantly unexpected. I also liked the portrayal of Drexler who was not the usual cliched Nazi constantly talking of the Master Race and wiping out Jews. Mostly an amoral careerist whose advancement is tied to the Third Reich’s, he looks upon Greta as a trophy. His struggles against Hart are as much for Heinz’s loyalty as ideological.

That said, I could have done without the whole romance between Hart and Heinz though it motivates much of the plot. Characters thrown together and falling in love is such an annoying cliche in suspense thrillers that it’s basically part of the formula.

I didn’t find this novel very suspenseful. Oddly enough, given Dietrich’s background as a science journalist and visitor to Antarctica, I also didn’t find this novel particularly interesting, scientifically, or evocative of the place. There wasn’t enough detail, for me, about the microecosystem of Atropos Island. I also found Heinz’s lab aboard ship, with her attendant feats of isolation, testing, and culturing Atropos’ plague, somewhat unbelievable.

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