Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.
A US Coastguard ice-breaker operating in the Arctic is approached by a lone skier who has a story to tell that doesn’t quite match his appearance. His name is Tom Anderson and he’s a research assistant and the sole survivor of an explosion at Zodiac, a scientific base a hundred miles distant – but he is wearing someone else’s jacket, blood-smeared and bullet-holed.
The ship’s helicopter is sent out to investigate and returns with bodies from the burned-out base, and two survivors, one of them the station doctor. Two scientists are missing. Running concurrently with grisly commuting as the chopper retrieves yet more corpses are the Coastguard captain’s interviews with the survivors who tell of violent deaths even before the explosion, of fraught liaisons involving two women in a man’s world, of suspect relations with a mysterious establishment in an abandoned Russian mine.
The captain’s concern is to meld the conflicting narratives of his three sick-bay patients, a task rendered even more difficult when the doctor from Zodiac glimpses Anderson and states categorically that he is an imposter; the real Anderson is one of the missing scientists. And then the alleged imposter vanishes from the ship.
At the point where the captain and the reader feel that they can take no more mystery Anderson’s diary turns up to fill gaps, more or less according with much that we have learned so far. Always more or less, always a caveat. You finish this book – having been absorbed – not quite sure what happened. Like the captain in his wheelhouse, looking out at the breaking ice as the cutter heads for home, you question what is out there in the frozen wasteland beside polar bears and a few men trying to survive by fair or foul means.
A cunning plot with ramifications, suggesting interesting discussions in reading circles.