The title of Dietrich's third novel (after Getting Back) refers to the season that hero/geologist Jed Lewis and some 20-odd fellow scientists and staff spend at Amundsen-Scott research base, at the South Pole. During that winter, several of them are murdered. Whodunit? That question drives the plot, marking this book as a mystery disguised as a thriller. And that's a problem, because, as evidenced here, Dietrich's flair for mystery is about as nil as the temperatures his characters suffer at the Pole. Dietrich once won a Pulitzer for science and environmental writing, however, and his talent for describing the awesome polarscape and its effect on human psychology and physiology is visible through his transparent plotting and characterizations. Lewis visits the Pole overtly to track its weather, but covertly to study a meteorite found by pioneering polar astrophysicist Mickey Moss. The meteorite, Lewis determines at first glance, may be Martian and worth millions. Then the rock is stolen and Moss is murdered and Lewis, one of two newcomers to the Pole (the other is a psychologist), emerges as chief suspect. To save his reputation and, eventually, his skin, Lewis hunts for the real killer. Further deaths ensue, each predictably putting Lewis in greater peril. This novel reads as if it were plotted via computer software, and any reader who fails to finger the genuine murderer (a clich of a mad scientist) long before Lewis does should be sentenced to read Hardy Boys novels for the next 10 years. Still, Dietrich evokes well the implacability of the Pole, and his detailings of daily life at the base ring with authenticity. If only they graced a nonfiction book, rather than this misshapen Popsicle of a novel. (Apr. 24) Forecast: Never mind its faults, this is the kind of thriller that, down the road, will fly off racks as a mass-market paperback. Blurbs from Larry Bond and P.T. Deutermann will help keep it airborne.
Reviewed on: 04/01/2001 Release date: 04/01/2001 Genre: Fiction