The Ice Master

James A. Houston, Author McClelland & Stewart $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7710-4207-2
This novel of an 1875 whaling expedition resembles a drugstore ice cream sandwich, bland ends on either side of a cold white reward. A traditional maritime adventure frames a more compelling central section that draws on the knowledge of Arctic life and Inuit customs that Houston (White Dawn; Confessions of an Igloo Dweller) gained in his 14 years among the Inuit. When young Newfoundland captain Tom Finn is rescued after 14 days lost at sea in an open fishing boat, a friend's sailing company offers him passage home on the Lancer, one of two ships sailing together to the Arctic. Mutineers kill its captain, but Finn subdues them--with help from the other boat's greedy commander, Caleb Dunston, who must then appoint Finn captain of the Lancer. Throughout the Baffin Island winter, the two captains jockey for supremacy, bed the locals, celebrate, fight Scottish whalers, go on expeditions and meet a local magic woman who predicts bad tidings for those who make the whales so scarce. Meanwhile, Finn--along with the reader--is granted a fascinating look at Inuit beliefs and customs. Next autumn the rival captains sail home: Dunston catches the bad luck while Finn returns to glory, in a fairy-tale ending that undermines the authentic, reportorial feel that keeps the Arctic section interesting. 40 illustrations by the author. (Oct.) FYI: In addition to writing novels, memoirs and numerous books for children, Houston has produced and directed documentary films and is a master designer for Steuben Glass.
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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