By Dean Koontz
It’s the near future and a group of scientists in the arctic have an audacious plan to help ease world hunger by breaking off glaciers to be towed southwards to help irrigate farmland. A group of scientists led by Harry Carpenter and his wife Rita have just finished planting sixty explosive charges deep in the ice, designed to shatter the glacier and create an iceberg. Unfortunately an earthquake creates an underwater tsunami that breaks the part of the glacier they’re on free.
Cast adrift, with limited supplies and fuel, it seems likely they’ll freeze to death before help can arrive, except they probably won’t get the chance because the explosives are due to go off at midnight. When out of nowhere the chance of salvation appears they think they might have a chance, but they haven’t reckoned on one of their number being a psychopath who’ll stop at nothing to fulfil his own twisted agenda…
I’ve been a fan of Koontz’s work for a long time. I think he’s a great, if flawed author. He usually comes up with fantastic plots that can run out of steam, and great characters who often wind up reminding you of other Koontz characters (they’re damaged because of some trauma in their past but they find hope in the love of a good man/woman etc.). For all his flaws he is a good writer, and a Koontz novel I haven’t read before is always something to nab when I see one going cheap.
Not that Icebound is new, in fact it’s forty years old now, originally having been published in 1976 under the title Prison of Ice. Koontz reedited it to make it more current and it was rereleased in 1995, so it’s been knocking around for a while.
The first thing to say is that it isn’t your classic Koontz, there’s no supernatural, or apparently supernatural, or otherwise fantastical force at work, instead this is a relatively straightforward thriller, and if it feels a little like an Alistair MacLean novel there’s a very good reason for that, in his notes at the end Koontz explains that he wrote it as a homage to the MacLean style of thriller.
It’s not a terrible book, but it rarely soars. The setup is interesting, and Koontz evokes the environment of the ice shelf upon which our helpless heroes (plus heroine) are marooned well. The would be rescuers are an engaging bunch, in many ways more interesting than the scientists, and it would be intriguing to see how they were originally played in the 1976 novel given the world was a very different place.
Where the book falls down is in the central mystery of who the would-be-killer is, and why he’s so determined to murder one of his fellows. For a mystery like that to work you need interesting characters and plenty of red herrings, but Koontz fails on both parts. Aside from characters who aren’t even on the ice shelf everyone is a thinly drawn caricature. So one of the group is an older Frenchman, one of them is young scion of a thinly veiled Kennedy’esque political dynasty, one is Chinese, one is a towering black man, one of them is Rita’s ex and one is a laid back bodybuilder, yet despite this it’s hard to tell them apart, and Koontz pretty much ignores the need for red herrings, which means when the psycho is finally revealed my initial thought was pretty much, meh.
Koontz’s prose means it isn’t a chore to read, and it’s got an intriguing set up, but in the end the book, and in particular its characters, left me feeling rather cold.