Saturday, November 4, 2017

Blue Ice: Review

In Blue Ice (1948) by Hammond Innes "Big" Bill Gansert has given up his job as ProductionManager with Base Metals and Industries (B.M.I.). He all set to board his personally redesigned and outfitted sailing yacht (the Diviner has been fitted with an ex-naval engine) and set his course for the warm waters of the Mediterranean. But before he and his crew can sail, his former boss comes to him with a mystery to solve and an offer he just can't refuse. A message has reached Sir Clinton Mann--a message that seems to come from the grave. 

A chunk of rock with a valuable sample of thorite has been found in a shipment of whale meat sent from Norway. The packaging is ruined from traveling with the meat, but enough of the handwriting was salvaged to be proved to have come from George Farnell, one of the most knowledgeable metallurgists in the field. There's just one problem. Farnell was supposed to have died a fortnight ago.

Farnell is a complicated man--single-minded in his pursuit of metals before the war, he had felt no compunction at forging the name of his partner to gain funds for his research. Caught and convicted he managed to escape imprisonment, fled to Norway and joined the Norwegian forces under the name of Bernt Olsen, earning hero's honors in the war. Recently, Olsen's body had been found after a snowstorm on the Jostedal, Europe's largest glacier and papers on the body revealed the connection between Olsen and Farnell. How did this man send a package if he was already dead?

If the scraps of legible writing are true and the thorite sample represents a tiny portion of the treasure trove Farnell had found in the glacier area of Norway, then somebody could get rich quick. Gansert had worked with Farnell and knew that the man knew his metals and knew those mountains like the back of his hand. He can't resist trying to piece together Farnell's last days and have a shot at finding the thorite himself--not for his own gain, but because he loves the thrill of discovery. He and his crew head to Norway to solve the mystery--but they aren't the only ones interested in Farnell and what he discovered. It will all end on the glacial mountains themselves with a high-speed ski chase and a last-ditch effort to catch a speeding train.

Innes writes a fairly compelling adventure story. It is a treasure hunt filled with treachery, missing men, tough double-crossing fishermen, nefarious moneyed mangers, and a hint of romance. We get adventure on the high seas (on the journey to Norway) and danger in the mountains when Gansert goes searching for Farnell's secrets. Innes also provides terrific descriptions of the dangerous, brooding landscape. He delivers more good storytelling in an action-packed genre. The second half of the novel moves more quickly and packs more action than the second half and the ending is satisfying, if a bit abrupt. ★★

[Finished on 10/31/17]

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