Good Reading : May 2009
word of mouth up close tales from the deep T Science, mythology and a love of adventure were the inspirations for GREIG BECK’s debut novel: a page-turning blockbuster, as he tells LACHLAN JOBBINS. he test of a good book,’ says Greig Beck, ‘is when you don’t mind getting into bed early because you just can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next.’ His debut novel Beneath the Dark Ice has all the ingredients of a late night page-turner: a remote and dangerous setting, a rugged hero with an Achilles heel, a vicious and deadly villain, geopolitical intrigue and cutting-edge science. Throw in a feisty heroine and a band of elite soldiers, put them in the ruins of an ancient civilisation and pit them against a mythological creature, and it’s a recipe for compulsive reading. The story begins with a plane crash revealing a massive cave system and the possibility of liquid oil deep under the Antarctic ice. When a search and rescue team disappears without a trace, US authorities fear the worst. Oil means big money, and powerful people will stop at nothing to control it. Captain Alex Hunter – codename ‘Arcadian’ – leads a crack team of commandos and scientific personnel on a mission to find out what happened. But things don’t go as planned. There’s something under the ice that no-one could have predicted … Sound familiar? Perhaps it should. Greig Beck is the latest Australian blockbuster author to emerge from publisher Cate Paterson’s stable at Pan Macmillan. Eleven years ago she helped turn Matthew Reilly from self-published thriller writer to international publishing sensation with Ice Station. Now she’s doing it again with Beneath the Dark Ice. In December last year, Paterson wrote to booksellers, saying ‘This is a novel to be read with the light on. It taps into all my fears about what might be lurking at the bottom of any deep water. It is full-blooded entertainment and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.’ The author of Beneath the Dark Ice is no stranger to the lure of adventure. He grew up ‘on the beach’ at South Bondi and spent his days surfing, reading and exploring the rockpools. 34 goodreading i MAY 2009 From King and Koontz he takes his love of character and small groups pitted against scary monsters: the team will be forced to bring all their different skills to bear if they are to survive. There’s also the fantastical plot made almost plausible by real science: Hunter has a bullet lodged in his midbrain – part of the brain that doctors still know very little about. Rather than crippling him, the injury has given him mysterious abilities: incredible strength and heightened senses, and also a potentially deadly ‘I used to love turning over stones to see what was underneath. I was hooked on dinosaurs and paleontology.’ He spent his teen years reading classic science fiction and adventure books like Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ‘John Carter of Mars’ novels, and a lot of Jules Verne. Add to this the writings of Stephen King and Dean Koontz and the mythological thrillers of Graham Masterton, and you start to get a feel for his imaginary grounding. Now he runs an IT business, but he still loves to surf, and the writing impulse has developed out of his habit of storytelling to his son Alex – who is a keen reader himself. He first began making up stories to tell Alex before bed, and eventually started writing them down. The result is Beneath the Dark Ice. There are plenty of nods to the greats of the thriller genre, but beyond obvious comparisons to Matthew Reilly, Greig is working a different area, more like the big writers of the eighties. ‘In the nineties, blockbusters were full of psychopaths and forensic scientists,’ he says. ‘But I think the best decade was the eighties. Back then writers like King and Koontz were really at their peak.’ rage. The other scientific basis of the novel is that scientists have discovered liquid water deep under the Antarctic ice sheet, and there is speculation that life may have developed there on a different evolutionary trajectory than elsewhere on earth. And Graham Masterton? ‘I love the way he takes a myth or legend and brings it into today’s world in unexplored ways.’ Greig cites The Manitou as a favourite. In the same way, Beneath the Dark Ice plays with legends like the Kraken and Atlantis, and draws on elements of Mayan and Olmec archaeology. But how much is real, and how much is invention? What if there once had been a great civilisation living in Antarctica? What if the thing that destroyed it was still there, thousands of years later? And what if there were other deadly enemies as well? All those questions keep you turning the pages. It’s a great book for blokes, and I suspect it will be very popular with teenage readers as well. Beneath the Dark Ice leaves you gasping for more, but like the best thriller writers, Greig Beck leaves a few questions unresolved at the end. Just as well he’s working on the sequel. Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck is published by Macmillan, rrp $32.99.