Pinnacle Books, New York
August 2005 (pb)
It has been a good season of discovering new writers who have selected archaeology as the background for their thrillers, mysteries or horror fiction. I now add Jay Bonansinga to that list and his Frozen, the first in an apparent series that will feature FBI profiler, Ulysses Grove.
Bonansinga has captured in this initial thriller all the elements I need to set aside the less essential aspects of everyday life—like sleeping and eating—to tear through his 346 pages of gripping narrative (and sometime purple prose) to find out how the thing ends. The most important element is plot and pacing; a close second is the creation of characters that are both believable (well, at least up to a point) and sympathetic. and if we as readers are to be witness to the psychological landscape of the protagonist, it better add to the total work and not simply drift off into angst and psychobabble. From my perspective, Jay Bonansinga accomplishes all of these elements—and while doing so, scares the bejeebers out of the reader!
First, the plot: Patterned after the real life discovery a few years ago of the prehistoric Alpine “iceman” dubbed “Otzi,” the story opens of the discovery by hikers of the remains of a 6,000 year old mummy in the snowy wastes of Alaska. Thought at first to be the victim of a natural mishap, physical anthropologists determine that the iceman was actually murdered in an apparently ritualistic fashion. Science journalist Maura County sees a possible scoop for her pop science magazine Discover and on a whim contacts the FBI, hoping an agent might be convinced to profile this ancient crime for her reading audience.
We are simultaneously introduced to FBI profiler, Ulysses Grove, who has been hailed as a phenomenal criminologist for his near-legendary string of solving baffling cases. But as the story opens he is close to psychological collapse after unsuccessfully following the bloody trail of a serial murderer known as the Sun City Killer. To give Grove a break from the apparent dead-end he’s hot on the Sun City case, Grove’s supervisor sends him (rather paternalistically) to Alaska to consult with Maura County on her “iceman mummy.” Grove’s psyche is shaken badly when he discovers that the ritualized killing of the iceman mirrors exactly the modus operandi of the Sun City serial killer.
This sets in motion a wild rollercoaster of a manhunt for a very contemporary killer and also a confrontation with an evil that has existed since the very dawn of time. Bonansinga is able to do what I believe only a relatively few authors can: they present a preposterous scenario and then, through deft writing and good characterization, make the reader voluntarily suspend his disbelief and buy into the author’s created universe.
Grove is a complex protagonist and not particularly easy to like. He owes some of his “existence” to that other complex and at times irascible fictional FBI character, Fox Mulder of X Files, and only dimly understands that his talents as a profiler rely as much on mystical dreams, visions and hunches as solid criminal science. We are permitted glimpses into Grove’s past—his alienation from an African-born single mother who clings to the animist rituals of her native continent, the unrequited grief over his wife’s tragic death and his growing fascination with Maura County, and his unresolved struggle with his own racial identity. But all of these psychological elements complement the plot, which is an unvarnished and unabashed thriller.
Frozen is not necessarily for readers who limit themselves to cozy mysteries; it is violent and graphic—but it is REALLY good!
Three and a half trowels!