Insulating an Alaskan pipeline is one of the few jobs where
the labourers get paid more than the bosses. But would you
want to do it, even for fifteen hundred a week? Read this
gritty thriller and reconsider that answer.
DEATH BELOW ZERO starts with a bunch of guys who have
appalling cold to endure just to slog hard in layers of down
clothing all day, and with nothing else to do, they take
cocaine at night. They fasten on pipeline insulation which -
they claim - isn't up to the usual standard, though nobody
in charge seems to care. In fact Nick Rezkel, a former PI,
notes that "Do Not Install" is on a memo about the very
batch number that he's been installing. The short-term
workers can't trust one another on safety issues, because
nobody who wants drugs goes short. Rezkel is not surprised
when one Prudhoe worker turns up dead in a scattering of the
expensive kind of snow.
Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Rezkel stands
accused of killing the worker in a drug deal gone wrong. He
starts to assemble evidence of his innocence and some
possible motives for murder, such as a padded payroll list
and that faulty insulation. It doesn't do him a lot of good
in Fairbanks, but he's not jailed - yet.
Enter a lot of unusual characters; those who help Rezkel
investigate and play Frisbee in the snow with him, and those
who finagle property deals, sell drugs or are just
unpleasant. With a deal of gambling talk, an undercover
investigative reporter and the occasional attractive, smart
woman, the story sinks into the unsavoury and shimmers with
I thought the environment of the tale was very well
described. In Alaska, we're told, it's illegal to pass by a
hitch-hiker when it's thirty degrees below, or colder.
Such details, as much as the experiences described, bring
home the reality of living and working in this vast wild
territory. There's too much drawn-out poker playing and
too much violence in Richard Anderson's tale for me to
really enjoy it, but anyone who likes the Dana Stabenow
books and wants to ratchet the crime up a few notches
should get on well with DEATH BELOW ZERO.
Nick Rezkel lost his PI license in a case that went
sideways. Turned out catching the killer wasn't enough. Now
he's on the Alaska Pipeline, working seven tens out in the
minus 70 wind chill. Yet, there are compensations. Nick
finds a new girlfriend with a quick tongue and a killer
body. Life feels sweet despite his boss' threats to fire
him. Then, everything gets serious. He finds a dead man, a
heap of cocaine dissolving in his pooled blood. State
troopers are convinced Nick stabbed the guy. Now, it's up to
him to escape and clear his name.