DR LAURA Alvarado has just completed a long, dreary over-winter stay in Antarctica and is looking forward to spending a few weeks in leafy inner Melbourne when word of a new opportunity arrives. Rather than speeding towards a comfortable summer on mainland Australia, Laura finds herself heading off to a tiny, barely inhabited former Norwegian outpost between the Antarctic ice-shelf and Argentina’s southernmost tip.
On South Safety Island her task is to carry out a thorough environmental impact assessment of an abandoned whaling station, Fredelighavn, in response to a request to have it opened to tourists. For the duration, her temporary home will be the neighbouring British base, Alliance – a tightly bonded, secretive community in which, it is quickly apparent, she is very much an unwelcome outsider.
With her sole survey partner’s posting delayed by illness and Fredelighavn off-limits to her Alliance hosts, Laura is forced to begin her study alone.
Distressed by thoughts of wholesale whale slaughter and haunted by a lifetime of personal loss and grief, she struggles to hold her nerve in the ghostly settlement. Although the deployment of her friend Kate as a backup scientist is comforting, signs of human interference compound Laura’s unease: freshly smoked cigarette butts inside one of the houses, abnormal aggression among colonies of seals and penguins, a shadowy figure moving between blubber rendering vats and, most disturbing of all, an eerily pale-skinned boy seemingly trapped behind a thick, impenetrable ice-wall and screaming for help.
What is the evasive Alliance team’s covert mission? Are the unexplained happenings at Fredelighavn related to this, or is her mind betraying her, exhausted by too many months in the field?
Laura’s investigations take her from South Safety to Nantucket in the US, then Venice, Italy, as she strives to free an explanation from the unyielding ice.