Book review: Out of the Ice by Ann Turner

Out of the Ice by Ann Turner
Out of the Ice by Ann Turner

When an environmental scientist is posted to a long abandoned whaling station in the wilds of Antarctica, she discovers more than just penguins, seals and a frozen landscape.

Hidden deep under the ice and snow are shocking secrets which Laura Alvarado is determined to dig out… wherever in the world that may lead her and however dangerous her mission.

Out of the Ice is the second powerful psychological drama from award-winning Aussie screenwriter and director Ann Turner whose debut novel The Lost Swimmer was published to wide acclaim last year.

This new adventure is a true thriller chiller; a tense, menacing mystery which explores the troubled history of whaling, the darker side of human nature, and stars a haunted heroine escaping personal tragedy and yearning for the sense of belonging that anchors human lives but which has so far proved elusive.

With two failed marriages and a tragic loss in her past, environmental scientist Laura Alvarado throws all her energies into her work in Antarctica. It is ‘the one underpinning strength’ of her life, the place that pulls her back from ‘the darkness’, but at the age of 39 she still longs for ‘a mate for life’ and a family of her own.

When Laura is sent to a remote Antarctic island to file an Environmental Impact Assessment report on Fredelighavn, an abandoned Norwegian whaling station in Placid Bay, she begins to uncover more than just colonies of the renowned Adélie penguins.

Reminders of the bloody, violent past are everywhere in this eerie, forgotten town, and Laura is disturbed to find evidence of recent human interference around her. Rules have been broken and some of the protected wildlife is behaving strangely.

On a diving expedition, Laura emerges into an ice cave where she is shocked to see an anguished figure, crying for help through an ice wall. But in this freezing, lonely landscape there are ghosts everywhere, and Laura wonders if her own eyes can be trusted. Has she been in the ice too long, is her mind starting to play tricks on her?

Back at the base, Laura’s questions about the whaling station go unanswered, blocked by scientists who are unused to outsiders and suspicious of her meddling. But Laura just can’t shake off what happened in the cave.

Piecing together a past and present of cruelty and vulnerability that can be traced around the world, from Norway to Nantucket, Europe and Antarctica, Laura will stop at nothing to unearth the truth. And as she comes face to face with the dark side of human progress, she also discovers an unexpected legacy that could transform her own lonely life…

Turner’s career in the film industry has given her a heightened sense of visual drama and this suspense-packed, fast-moving thriller delivers a rollercoaster ride through despair, discovery and death from one of the harshest and most uncompromising corners of our planet to the warmer climes of Italy’s Eternal City.

These are places brought stunningly alive by Turner’s taut and yet surprisingly lyrical storytelling as we follow the dedicated, determined but achingly vulnerable Laura on a mission into the heart of evil, and on a journey of self-discovery through love, grief and hope.

With its immaculately researched storyline and compelling blend of science, intrigue, romance and real history, Out of the Ice is the perfect companion for the dark autumn nights.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)