Dark Winter


William Dietrich


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

November 18, 2005

This book reminded me of the Alistair MacLean novels I used to read when I was much younger. MacLean wrote some great stuff: Breakheart Pass, Ice Station Zebra, Night Without End, Where Eagles Dare, Guns of Navaronne - he cranked out several dozen of those thrillers (my favorite was The Secret Ways). I should go back and reread those MacLean books some day, I still have them on my shelf. Dark Winter, by William Dietrich (who apparently won a Pulitzer Prize for his journalism) is a suspense novel in the same vein as those classic MacLean tales.

Dark Winter is the story of Jed Lewis, a geologist who flies down to the research station at the South Pole. He is on the last flight before winter conditions make flying impossible; Jed and the team of 26 researchers will be isolated from the rest of humanity for the next 6 months. What is a geologist doing in Antarctica, on top of sheet of ice 2 miles thick - no rocks are in sight for miles around - the surface is a smooth white sheet? It turns out that one of researchers at the base has discovered a meterorite, and Jed Lewis is there to investigate its potential value. If it is a Mars rock, it could be worth millions. Jed has an initial look at the meterorite, and warns the finder to tell no one else about the find. Sure enough, the finder soon turns up dead and the meterorite is missing. Naturally, suspicion falls on Jed because he is the newcomer in a tight knit community.

Dark Winter is a real page turner. The Antarctic winter is brutal and harsh, it can kill you quickly. It is dark and claustrophobic. Indeed, a psychologist has joined the team just to study the effects of a small community cut off from the rest of humanity - he wants to observe an isolated group of scientists because he expects NASA to send a similar team on long space voyages. The conditions in the Antarctic winter are as close to the perils of outer space as exist any where on Earth.

The psychologist gets to observe stressful group dynamics right away - a violent, grumpy technician named Buck who likes making knives and shirking his assignments challenges the authority of the station's leader. Things rapidly degenerate when a second death occurs, and greater suspicion falls on Jed.

If I have any complaint with this story, its that the villain is a little too easy to spot. Alistair MacLean usually kept some big secrets right up to the last chapter for a big final surprise, but in Dark Winter you will probably figure out what is going on relatively soon. But just because YOU know doesn't mean the characters have figured it out. Also, the bad guy seems to be a little too well prepared, he seems almost omniscient in his ability create mayhem and not get caught. I stayed up late to finish the book. This was a fast read, probably because I was reluctant to put it down!