The Polaris expedition, the failed first U.S. expedition to the North Pole, is one of the strangest in the history of Arctic misadventure. It was marked by the mysterious death of its leader, Capt. Charles Francis Hall, and by bickering between different factions of the crew, both before and after their leader's death. After marooning 18 of its members, including officer George Tyson, on an ice floe (where they drifted for six months until rescued by another ship), the expedition ended when the vessel was abandoned by the remainder of the crew. In clean, fast-paced prose, Henderson (coauthor of And the Sea Will Tell) aptly conveys daily life on the ship and reconstructs its mood and politics vividly. He succeeds, too, at re-creating characters from among the crew, interspersing the thoughts of various men with dialogue, thereby immersing the reader in the story. Perhaps Henderson could have extracted more drama from the captain's death: in the final chapter, he explores in detail the possibility of foul play and the dying captain's suspicions that he was being poisoned, well after the description of the death itself. But he handles the story of the group that gets separated from the ship smoothly, having wisely focused on George Tyson, the leader of the stranded men, throughout the book. With narrative and descriptive skill, he chronicles the group's attempt to survive the Arctic winter and one another's treachery. In the end, Henderson casts significant doubt on the official inquiry into Hall's death, citing the inquiry's transcripts and drawing on the results of an autopsy performed on Hall's exhumed body in 1968 that reveal high levels of arsenic. Fans of adventure writing will appreciate this fine book. (Feb.) Forecast: Once again, two titles on the same subject will be released within shelving dates of one another; in this case, the rival, due out a week earlier, is Trial by Ice, by Richard Parry. Both are worthy books, though the Henderson is the worthier, but which the public flocks to remains to be seen.
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001 Release date: 02/01/2001
Mass Market Paperbound - 337 pages - 978-0-451-20413-4