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25: The ninth circle

In 1871, self-made Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall spearheaded the first U.S. expedition to reach the yet-unconquered North Pole. By three months in, however, he was dead - the probable victim, as author Richard Parry notes in Trial by Ice, of a murderous plot among certain members of his crew. That was only the start of the misfortunes for Hall's expedition, 51PUiadinnL._SL500_AA300_though; a Lord of the Flies mentality swiftly descends upon the crew, and a series of wrongheaded, incompetent decisions put the survivors in a fight for their lives in a desolate, icy wasteland.

Now, the story takes a while to get going, though perhaps that's just a vagary of the format - this is the first unabridged audiobook to which I've listened. Parry's digressions in the first, pre-expedition part of the book, though, are a bit patience-trying. He also telegraphs certain information about who survives that would be best left unrevealed early on, and his completely warranted frustration with the scholars who interfered with Hall's ill-fated expedition often turns into petty animosity against scholarship in general. When the book gets going about a third of the way in, though, it's utterly gripping - the writing and character work allows us to see how interactions compounded their misadventures and made the worst of their situation, and Parry milks every small turn of the crew's fortunes for (totally earned) nail-biting drama. Near the end, I was shouting out loud with relief or disbelief at every development and often stayed in the car for a good long bit after I'd arrived at my destination to see how Hall's explorers would get out of their latest jam (and into their next one).

I've read offhanded rejections online of Parry's explanation for Hall's death, but I dunno - the forensic & circumstantial evidence and journaled testimony the author assembles is pretty damning. Regardless of whether you agree with Perry's conclusions as to Hall's fate, though, his chronicle of the man's doomed expedition is arresting.

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