Dead Men by Richard Pierce

Dead Men

First Published: 2012 by Gerald Duckworth
My copy: Bought on Kindle

Memorable quote: “Mourning for Bowers is mourning for her father. Maybe carrying his name has burdened her with another kind of grief and guilt too, the kind we feel when the past drifts off beyond recollection and memory into anecdote and dream.”

A brand new novel about – guess what – a modern woman who is obsessed with the Terra Nova expedition! I had to read it, didn’t I? Young artist Henrietta Birdie Bowers is a woman burdened with a dead man’s name and her father’s obsession with Scott’s Last Expedition has come to define her own life too. When a chance encounter on a train draws the uninitiated Adam Caird into Birdie’s orbit he becomes caught up with her obsession and so begins a relationship that will change his life, carrying him from Birdie’s studio to New Zealand, to Norway, and finally to Antarctica itself – to the historic hut at Cape Evans, and chillingly to the point where their grieving companions collapsed the tent and left Scott, Wilson and Bowers to their icy grave. Interspersed with the story of Birdie and Adam and the mystery they hope to solve are a number of vignettes, brief evocations of key figures in the expedition story: Cherry, Kathleen Scott, Amundsen.

Antarctic aficionados will quickly find that Pierce takes a lot of liberties with historical fact and a certain suspension of disbelief is required to get the most out of this novel. But where Pierce is absolutely spot on is in his depiction of obsession: Birdie’s obsession with her namesake; Adam’s obsession with Birdie herself; and the way that for the explorers the ice itself exerts a powerful and deadly attraction. In this respect the novel is utterly convincing. It’s hard to explain just how deeply these things, these men and their stories, can get under your skin and exert their siren song, but Pierce manages to do just that. I really enjoyed the characters Pierce invented especially the flaky and unpredictable Birdie, and though (hardened cynic that I am) I dislike a lot of romance stories I found her interactions with Adam very sweet and moving.* All in all this is a quirky adventure novel with an eerie edge and plenty to say that’s worth hearing about the power of the past. It’s not perfect by any means but I salute Pierce for writing it.

My husband should be glad I wasn’t into this stuff back when we met: Birdie won’t date Adam until he’s read The Worst Journey in the World TWICE!

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