by Timothy S. Johnston
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
(Click book cover to buy)
Cold on the heels of his Sci-Fi thriller The Furnace, author Timothy Johnston presents The Freezer, featuring the further adventures of far-future murder investigator Kyle Tanner, in the second novel of what has become known as the Tanner Sequence.
If you enjoyed The Furnace, then you’ll enjoy The Freezer, as Johnston serves up another Sci-Fi mystery thriller with a strong action core. It’s a fast-paced adventure that careens across a deadly and exotic backdrop. And Johnston tosses Tanner into mortal peril right out of the gate with the book’s opening line:
“I left Mars on a Tuesday in a jumpship bound for Ceres, and I didn’t know it at the time but by Saturday I would be dead.”
It makes for an arresting introduction to the narrative. Unfortunately, aside from the action elements, the rest of the story never quite rises to the promise of this intriguing start, as The Freezer suffers from many of the same problems that hampered its predecessor. (Read The Furnace review here.)
The Freezer catches up with CCF Lieutenant Tanner shortly after his ordeal at SOLEX One. In wake of his near death in orbit around Sol, Tanner has decided to light out for the outer system, joining his new love Shaheen Ramachandra at her new assignment on Pluto.
En-route, however, Tanner gets diverted to a mining colony on Ceres to investigate a murder. But the seemingly routine case goes sideways very quickly, and clues lead Tanner to a remote base on the frozen Jovian moon Europa, where a team of scientists is searching for life in the satellite’s vast, ice-covered oceans. Soon another murder confirms that there’s more going on at the station then meets the eye, and Tanner finds himself plunged into a bigger mystery with potentially fatal consequences.
All of this is terrific action Sci-Fi fodder, and while Johnston delivers on that front, the rest of the story ultimately falls flat on many levels.
The Freezer’s chief flaw is Tanner himself. He’s a murder investigator-cum-action hero who’s all smug swagger with no real relatable center. Johnston tries to round him out with a backstory full of loss and loneliness, but Tanner is always so busy with consciously being a hero—and reminding you how dire and heroic his actions are—that you can’t help but roll your eyes. This could be fun if there was more of a parodic element in the character, but Johnston plays Tanner humorlessly straight.
This lack of character depth extends to the station personnel, who never get fleshed out much beyond their job descriptions. Here’s a doctor, here’s a scientist, here’s a tech, here’s a mechanic. But aside from some basic personality traits (angry, suspicious, wary) you never get a sense of who these people are outside of the questions that Tanner asks them through the course of his investigation—or through secrets he reveals to provide plot twists. As a result, they feel more like plot cogs than individuals. This may be attributable to the fact that Tanner tells the story in the first person, and that he really wouldn’t have the time or inclination to know these people any deeper. But in the end readers are still left wanting.
Tanner’s flat, no-nonsense style also affects the narrative, which informs but rarely engages, delivering the story in workmanlike sentences without much flare—until our hero plunges himself into another situation fraught with mortal, action-filled peril.
And that’s where The Freezer becomes the most rousing. Many of these sequences are set outside on Europa’s frozen expanse, and it’s evident that Johnston had a ball writing them. He concocts several deadly scenarios that require Tanner to improvise creative solutions. The story may want for many things, but bravado isn’t one of them.
Embracing that bravado is ultimately the key to enjoying The Freezer—especially as some of the plot reveals border on ridiculous. Just accept it and go for the ride. In the end, The Freezer is an action novel, and if you approach it as such, its shortcomings become manageable.
Johnston apparently has bravado to spare. A new Tanner adventure will debut in 2015 called The Void—which should bode well for Furnace and Freezer fans. Because if the title is any indication, the solar system just isn’t big enough to contain the outsized exploits of Kyle Tanner.