By Andrew Buckner
Rating: ***1/2 out of *****.
The fourth Gideon Crew novel from the collaborative team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child is a sequel to the duo’s July 1st of 2001 release, The Ice Limit. It is entitled Beyond the Ice Limit (2016). The 384 page volume, released through Grand Central Publishing, succeeds as a stand-alone novel. It is just as triumphant as a sequel. Preston and Child craftily find a way to interject pivotal details from the original into the dialogue. These are all crucial components that would’ve left those who haven’t read The Ice Limit confused. All of this is done in a manner that appears genuine and never forced. Simultaneously, it still smartly maneuvers forward the chronicle. The undertaking even manages to ultimately leave us, satisfyingly enough, with a dash of the mystery that concluded The Ice Limit. However, as a follow-up to Crew’s last harrowing adventure, The Lost Island, it fails to summon the old-fashioned excitement, at least to the degree, of the previously stated work.
Part of this has to do with the proficient, but too gradual for a composition of this pulse pounding ilk, pace. We go through over half the book until any real suspense or sense of danger seems imminent. This is save for several promising instances beforehand. All of which seem cut from a high tech rendition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870) by Jules Verne. Nevertheless, Preston and Child’s fascination with science and theorization, which calls to mind Michael Chrichton, is in full swing in this early section. For the most part, this aspect is absorbing. This is as much as the riveting entertainment commonly equated with an opus from the collaborative team. The difficulty is that the emphasis on this angle takes up so much of the hardcover that the plot seems to be left stationary. Such is most visible as past occurrences and ideas are constantly mulled over and re-explained. This happens so frequently that one can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. This repetition is also intermittently evident in the last 1/3.
Another problem area is that all of the new characters are given little time, despite the length dedicated to the exposition, to be established as a unique personality. All we know about them is from the perspective of their occupation. The rare glimpses we are given into these beings suggest stereotypical banality. Already established personas, such as Effective Engineering Solutions’ head Eli Glinn, are the only ones we feel any intimacy or sense of presence towards. Even Gideon Crew, the hero of these volumes, seems noticeably underused.
Preston and Child’s latest concerns an expedition to the remnants of the ship which was destroyed in The Ice Limit: the Rolvaag. This mission is propelled by the belief that the meteorite they attempted to recover last time was not such an item at all. Instead, it is an extraterrestrial entity. One that is planted two miles below the surface. It is located within the Antarctic sea bed itself. The organism, if that is indeed what it is, seems to be growing. If it continues to do so it may just mean the extinction of mankind. This is unless Crew, who only has nine months left to live due to a fatal medical condition, and a varied band of individuals can find out how to stop it. This is while the option to do so remains.
This is a fascinating and fun set-up. It is a plot that should be naturally intriguing. Likewise, it arises as a perfect platform for Preston and Child’s trademark intellectual, white-knuckle style. For the most part, this is true. Such is especially accurate when the affair turns into an underwater variation of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) in the later segments. Preston and Child prove again capable of blending multiple genres as the tale moves from adventure to romance, science-fiction and, ultimately, horror. There are even impressive statements on the destructive nature of mankind brilliantly woven into the proceedings. Each genre turn is blended seamlessly into the composition. There’s a natural transition to those shifting components at every interval. Such is a distinctly impressive feat.
Despite this, even when the opus is at its most engaging: the sense of exhilaration and fear never catches on. At least, not in the way that is expected. Moreover, nearly every turn in the story is familiar. Preston and Child seem determined to bring us one cliché after another. All that transpires in Beyond the Ice Limit has been done far too often. What also sinks the proceedings is that most of the climax, outside of an epilogue which nicely ties up many questions and adds a few more, is limp. Still, its structure, as frustrating as it may be, is oddly compelling in its own right.
The best attribute is Preston and Child’s cinematic prose. Their writing is clear, meticulous, intelligent and compulsively readable. They have a style which is perfect for beach reads. Such is the case of the bulk of the endeavors in their literary catalogue. It is easy to get swept up in the vividly described world they have created with each respective tome. Such makes the flaws herein largely forgivable. They even come off as strangely charming.
The result is a solid read. It is one that certainly soars over the mediocre tedium of Preston and Child’s recent Agent Pendergast entry, Crimson Shore (2015). Yet, without such a herculean characteristic as Preston and Child’s talents piloting the narrative: the endeavor may have quickly flatlined. If this were so, its brightest trait would be the literary homage to antiquated B-movies and similarly themed literature erupting from its surface. As it is, the exertion ebbs and flows amusement. The piece could use considerable tightening. This is noticeable in the first two hundred pages. Even with such excess this remains a pleasant diversion. Sometimes that is all you need.