I keep promising more reviews. I rarely live up to that promise. (They seem to take me so long to write.) This week, however, is different…
A classic 1920s science fiction novella — with a 21st century twist. Ex-boxer Harry Stubbs is on the trail of a mysterious legacy in South London. A polar explorer has died, leaving huge debts and hints of a priceless find. Harry’s informants seem to be talking in riddles, he finds that isn’t the only one on the trail — and what he’s looking for is as lethal as it is valuable, leaving a trail of oddly-mutilated bodies. The key to the enigma lies in an ancient Arabian book, leading to something more alien and more horrifying than Harry could ever imagine. Harry is not be an educated man, but he has an open mind, bulldog persistence and piledriver fists — important assets when you’re boxing the darkest of shadows.
The story of mystery and horror draws on HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and is inspired by Ernest Shackleton’s incredible real-life Antarctic adventures.
The Elder Ice is an enjoyable book – quick to read, well written and entertaining. If you’re interested in a London mystery set in the early 20thcentury, with a supernatural twist, a dash of gore, and a few left hooks dropped into the mix, this one’s for you.
What starts out as a straightforward mystery novel, complete with a cast of chancers and lovable rogues, becomes something a whole lot stranger. (Think ‘From Dusk til Dawn’ but with bowler hats, fist fights, antique dealers and ‘fug.’) Not everyone will appreciate the transition from ‘normal’ to ‘odd’, but for others not enough will be made of that final weirdness.
There were a few things that stood out.
The opening is fantastic. It grips you, sets the scene and the ending of it leaves a nice chill.
The main protagonist. Harry is the classic pugilistic gentleman, the type of fellow to give you a broken-nosed grin while reminding you ‘not to confuse kindness with weakness’. (He may even crack his knuckles as he does so.) His back story, his hopes and dreams, his good nature and stolidly reliable presence. I like Harry. It’s also refreshing to have a character who doesn’t have a Dark Secret (normally alcoholism) crowbarred into the pages.
The boxing! Love it. Just the right amount of detail. Some books get too technical in their fight scenes, this was nicely done. The street fight cut a fine line between genteel and the Hollywood style of ‘let’s all politely line up to get clobbered one at a time’, but that’s a minor gripe on my part. Using ‘round’ instead of ‘chapter’ is also a nice touch.
The highlight was the language. The author’s prose and dialogue is very evocative. Combined with historical details and a smattering of unobtrusive facts, it captures the period of the drama superbly and makes for a great setting.
The length (all 100 pages of it) makes this a quick read. As a result, some of the sections feel rushed and some of the characters a little underdeveloped. E.g. I would have liked more made of Harry’s legal employer and the scientists who study the little critters that underpin the plot. These people were there. And then gone.
There were a few moments which didn’t add up. The first was when Harry seemed to go from being under potentially-lethal suspicion to innocence in a matter of heart beats. I know this can happen, but the manner in which it happened didn’t quite make sense. Similarly, when Harry finds out who has been pulling the strings, the nature of the reveal and Harry’s reactions were underplayed & under-described. (The person who has been pulling the strings was a nice twist, though. I didn’t see that one coming.)
A few moments made me feel like I was Being Explained To. Some action (or more of that evocative prose) to balance out the dialogue would have been welcome.
The big scene at the end of the novel was, unfortunately, the weakest section. Personally, I would have preferred a lot more ‘mortal peril.’ I realise that in doing so the book could quite easily have slid too far into flat-out horror. Maybe this is why the author didn’t go that way, but the tension never really grabbed me when I really wanted it to. The survivor of this scene seemed to get through with good, old-fashioned grit and gumption and not much else. I would have preferred the author to bring in some of the drama found on the other pages (e.g. earlier in the same scene, in the derelict shed) to up the ante.
Harry’s ultimate fate in this short novel, however, is nicely done.
All in all, this is a good book but one which may have benefitted by simmering for a little longer and boiling a little harder. I would happily read more by the same author.
You can check out the book on Amazon The Elder Ice.
And you can read about the man behind the words here.
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