Review: OUT OF THE ICE by Ann Turner

I imagine it’s thanks to her screen writing background that Ann Turner is a dab hand at depicting a strong sense of physical place in her novels. In this, her second standalone thriller, Turner takes us to Antarctica which she brings alive in a way that few novels set there manage to do. There is, of course, the usual focus on ice and wildlife but by setting a good portion of the book in an abandoned Norwegian whaling village Tuner provides a human scale to the place which, perhaps paradoxically, makes it all the more wondrous. Showing the village as a place where whole families once lived and played in between working hard in an industry most would now find abhorrent is well done and offers a genuinely fascinating view of this little-understood part of the world.

Alas, for me at least, the remaining elements of the book were not nearly as successful.

Turner’s heroine, scientist Laura Alvarado, is asked to make a report about the possibility of removing the aforementioned whaling village, Fredelighavn, from the Antarctic Exclusion Zone and opening it as a tourist destination. Although Laura is against the idea at the outset it is assumed by those who matter that she will be objective and so she is cajoled into agreement. Her problems begin when she arrives at the scientific research base nearest to the village and is treated like some kind of pariah by most of the people there. Who just happen to be men. Is it a sexism thing? Then in the village itself (a relatively short ride away from the research base) odd things start to happen. It seems like people have been there recently even though no one is meant to be there without permission. And Laura thinks she sees actual people. Is that a real woman or the ghost of the last whaling captain’s wife? And is there really a teenage boy trapped in an ice cave or is Laura going ‘toasty’ (the phrase used to describe the particular kind of madness that strikes people who have stayed too long in Antarctica)?

My problem was that I didn’t care. I was bored early with Laura who is meant to be around 30 and behaves, mostly, like a particularly petulant and juvenile 14 year old. She rushes to judgement, swoons like a schoolgirl on multiple occasions and behaves erratically or stupidly almost all of the time. I know that might be realistic as far as human beings go but it’s just not very interesting to read about. And the fact that she does a decade’s worth of maturing over the course of the last 25 or so pages of the book make it worse somehow. There are a lot of other characters but none really are developed beyond a single dimension so they didn’t offer much in the way of engagement for me.

As for the the storyline…I found it to be absurd and not in a good, Douglas Adams-y way. More like someone threw a magnetic poetry kit at the nearest fridge door and used the resulting randomness as the basis for a plot. I know we are readers are meant to suspend disbelief when reading fiction but I’d have need to put my critical faculties in a blender to swallow the credibility gaps here. I’m not even concerned with the main “strange things going on in a really hard to get to place” element of the plot which I could have lived with. But all the little things surrounding that just didn’t ring true. Mostly because they were based on Laura’s random conjectures and/or official organisations or their representatives behaving in ways that wouldn’t happen. And you don’t want to get me started on the sappy, daft ending.

I did enjoy the parts of OUT OF THE ICE that depicted the historical use of Antarctica. which included a nice little side-trip to Nantucket to meet with the last whaling captain’s granddaughter. But as a work of narrative thrills I was sadly disappointed.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 11th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781925030907
Length: 360 pages
Format: eBook (iBooks)
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: OUT OF THE ICE, Ann Turner

  • source: e-ARC from publisher through NetGalley
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia (June 1, 2016)
  • Publication Date: June 1, 2016
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01C36E2XO

Synopsis (NetGalley)

By the bestselling author of The Lost Swimmer, a tense, eerie thriller set in the icy reaches of Antarctica

When environmental scientist Laura Alvarado is sent to a remote Antarctic island to report on an abandoned whaling station, she begins to uncover more than she could ever imagine.

Despite new life thriving in the icy wilderness, the whaling station is brimming with
awful reminders of its bloody, violent past, and Laura is disturbed by evidence of recent human interference. Rules have been broken, and the protected wildlife is behaving strangely.

On a diving expedition, Laura is separated from her colleague. She emerges into an ice cave where, through the blue shadows, she is shocked to see an anguished figure, crying for help.

But in this freezing, lonely landscape there are ghosts everywhere, and Laura begins to sense that her own eyes cannot be trusted. Is her mind playing tricks? Has she been in the ice too long?

Back at base, Laura’s questions about the whaling station go unanswered, blocked by unhelpful scientists, unused to questions from an outsider. And Laura just can’t shake what happened in the ice cave.

Piecing together a past and present of cruelty and vulnerability that can be traced all around the globe, from Norway, to Nantucket, Europe and Antarctica, Laura will stop at nothing to unearth the truth. As she sees the dark side of endeavour and human nature, she also discovers a legacy of love, hope and the meaning of family. If only Laura can find her way…

My Take

Australians have a long connection with Antarctica and a mystery novel set there is very attractive.

Highly reputed marine biologist Laura Alvarado is an expert on the Environmental Impact of humans on Antarctic wildlife particularly on penguins, whales and dolphins.  She is in Antarctica currently on an unusually long 18 month contract.

She is requested is to go to the old Norwegian whaling station at Fredelighavn, currently the subject of an Exclusion Order, to assess whether it should be opened for tourism. The station has been closed since 1957 and reports are that many of the formerly endangered species, whales and penguins etc., are flourishing. Laura is to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment. There is a British base nearby called Alliance on South Georgia Island. She will be given assistance at Alliance and will travel to Fredelighavn on a daily basis.

Laura is surprised at the level of non-cooperation she meets among the scientists at Alliance but puts it down to the top secret nature of their research.

I thought the parts of the plot set at Alliance and Fredlighavn were very well done with good character development and a rising level of suspense. The story of the Norwegian whalers who set up the village at Fredelighavn was interesting. I was less than comfortable when the plot took an extravagant direction and tracked paedophilia across the globe.

Having said that, I think the plot would make a stunning film, thought-provoking on many levels.

My Rating: 3.8

I’ve also read  4.4, THE LOST SWIMMER

About the author (publisher)

Ann Turner is an award-winning screenwriter and director, avid reader, and history lover. She is drawn to salt-sprayed coasts, luminous landscapes, and the people who inhabit them all over the world. She is a passionate gardener. Her films include the historical feature Celia starring Rebecca Smart—which Time Out listed as one of the fifty greatest
directorial debuts of all time, Hammers Over The Anvil starring Russell Crowe and Charlotte Rampling, and the psychological thriller Irresistible starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, and Emily Blunt. Ann has lectured in film at the Victorian College of the Arts. Returning to her first love, the written word, in her debut novel The Lost Swimmer
Ann explored themes of love, trust and the dark side of relationships.

Review: THE LOST SWIMMER by Ann Turner

TheLostSwimmerAnnTurner24087_fTo me THE LOST SWIMMER reads like a book written by a committee. At least that’s the only way I can think of to describe its disjointedness and almost schizophrenic sensibility.

The biggest issue of this kind is what kind of book it is. I’m not normally one to get hung up on labels (in fact I’ve been known to lament their restrictiveness) but someone – I’m not sure if it’s the publishers or author or someone else in the chain – has gone to some lengths to market this book as literary. The word appears in publicity material – both with and without the word thriller attached – and there are even a series of book club questions in the edition I read (which, I’m afraid, I always find insufferably patronising). Not only does this over-emphasis give the impression that someone thinks literary fiction is intrinsically better than the popular kind (another sentiment guaranteed to get my hackles rising), but it draws attention to the fact that the book doesn’t fit any definition of literary fiction I can think of. It’s at least as much plot driven as it is focused on exploring any particular theme, it does not demonstrate much in the way of social commentary (insightful or otherwise) nor are its characters terribly well developed. It’s protagonist – an Australian archaeological professor called Rebecca Wilding – is not noticeably more complex than the average human and the rest of the characters are entirely one-dimensional. Some of the descriptive passages provide good imagery but I suspect that owes more to the author’s screen-writing credentials than any literary sensibility the book has in its own right.

But the book isn’t what I’d call a thriller either. There is a lot of stuff happening all the way along but most of it isn’t very suspenseful and much of it is simply odd. For example there’s a whole passage involving an altercation between Rebecca, her dog and a kangaroo that I’m sure was meant to be metaphorical (confirmed by the inclusion of this passage in one of the book club questions) but just felt way too contrived to me. The book’s major dramatic event doesn’t happen until about two thirds of the way through, which wouldn’t have mattered except that the publicity made such a big deal of it that I was waiting for it from the outset. Impatiently. Until that point there is just a lot of white noise. The university where Rebecca and her husband both work is going through hard financial times and both their faculties are having to radically cut costs and sack people. Then Rebecca is accused of financial fraud. At the same time she begins (for no reason that I can actually pinpoint) to suspect her husband of having an affair. After the big event the book is more squarely thriller-like, though there are a lot of implausible coincidences crammed into the last third of the book in order to bring about a resolution.

Another aspect of the book I struggled with is Rebecca herself. On the one hand she is head of a university department an expert on a particular archaeological period and has a good reputation amongst her colleagues. In short she is fairly ‘together’ and competent. She rather suddenly develops a kind of paranoia – about her husband’s potential affair and the activities of her boss – but there’s no consistency to her thinking or behaviour. I’m not troubled by whether or not her fears have validity – that’s a legitimate question for the narrative to answer – but Rebecca just doesn’t seem to me to be a recognisable person from the beginning of the book to the end. In one chapter she behaves one way. In the next another that doesn’t gel with what went before. One moment she’s wondering which of the women in his life Stephen is having an affair with and being surprised to learn he has started investing in the stock market after they’d agreed he never would. The next she is asking her friends to ‘give her some credit for knowing her husband’. I suppose this could all be put down to Rebecca’s status as a first-person narrator – often unreliable beasts – but to me it just tell as if each version of her had been written by someone different.

THE LOST SWIMMER was the most reviewed crime novel for last year’s Australian Women Writers challenge so I was keen to read it but found myself disappointed. I concede that’s partly to do with the expectations that the publicity and popularity inevitably set but that’s not the whole story. I think the book tried too hard to be something it isn’t and in so doing failed to be what it ought to have been. In reaching for but not achieving literary status it neglected the foundations of a good suspense novel; taking too long to build up its drama and being too obvious in its plotting (I lost count of how many times I muttered ‘show don’t tell’ under my breath as I was reading). It did keep me reading to the end but, if I’m to be totally honest, more so I could sit back in smug satisfaction at having predicted the main plot points than because I was genuinely interested in what happened to Rebecca or her husband.


As is always the case other opinions are available and many of them are more positive about this book than I feel, including my fellow Fair Dinkum co host who reviewed the book in April last year


AWW2016This is the second book I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challange check out my challenge progress, sign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster [2015]
ISBN: 9781925030860
Length: 341 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: THE LOST SWIMMER, Ann Turner

Synopsis (Net Galley)

Rebecca Wilding, an archaeology professor, traces the past for a living.

But suddenly, truth and certainty are turning against her. Rebecca is accused of serious fraud, and   worse, she suspects – she knows – that her husband, Stephen, is having an affair.

Desperate to find answers, Rebecca leaves with Stephen for Greece, Italy and
Paris, where she can uncover the conspiracy against her, and hopefully win
Stephen back to her side, where he belongs. There’s too much at stake – her
love, her work, her family.

But on the idyllic Amalfi Coast, Stephen goes swimming and doesn’t come back.

In a swirling daze of panic and fear, Rebecca is dealt with fresh allegations.
And with time against her, she must uncover the dark secrets that stand between
her and Stephen, and the deceit that has chased her halfway around the world.

My Take:

Rebecca Wilding is having a tough time at Coast University, particularly with the Dean of the Arts faculty, Professor Priscilla Chiton, who seems determined to make her life hell. Priscilla used to be a friend, but now Rebecca suspects she is having an affair with her husband Stephen, Professor of Economics. Rebecca also suspects that Stephen may be dabbling on the stock market again.

Suddenly things start to go very wrong when accounting irregularities crop up and Rebecca is accused of siphoning university funds into her own accounts.

There were some heart stopping moments in this thriller, particularly when they are driving a red sports car up a narrow road on the Amalfi Coast.

Stephen’s disappearance leads to Rebecca becoming a chief suspect for his possible murder, and she goes on the run from the police, attempting to track him down in Paris, where she thinks he is meeting up with Priscilla.

A good read: a debut novel from a female Australian author.

My rating: 4.4

About the author (publisher)

Ann Turner is an award-winning screenwriter and director, avid reader, and
history lover. She is drawn to salt-sprayed coasts, luminous landscapes,
and the people who inhabit them all over the world. She is a passionate
gardener. Her films include the historical feature Celia starring
Rebecca Smart—which Time Out listed as one of the fifty greatest
directorial debuts of all time, Hammers Over The Anvil starring Russell
Crowe and Charlotte Rampling, and the psychological thriller
Irresistible starring Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, and Emily Blunt. Ann
has lectured in film at the Victorian College of the Arts. Returning to
her first love, the written word, in her debut novel The Lost Swimmer
Ann explores themes of love, trust and the dark side of relationships.
She is currently working on her second novel, Out of the Ice, a mystery
thriller set in Antarctica. Ann was born in Adelaide and lives in
Victoria.