Ballantine, 1979, 342 pages, C$4.00 mmpb, ISBN 0-345-28947-1
At first, I didn’t intend to review this book.
Understand that I do not write full-length reviews for every single book I read. Not only would this be prodigiously time-consuming (I’m having enough trouble as it is keeping up with my reviews backlog), but I have convinced myself a long time ago that not every book contains enough material to warrant critical discussion. I’d rather read fifty pages of a good book than to waste my time writing about how dull was another one. Average books are usually those who fall on the wayside: neither good enough to recommend nor bad enough to tear apart, those mid-list works are almost instantly forgettable.
The Deadly Frost would be one of those average novels. The premise is intriguing enough, at least for catastrophe fetishists like myself; in an alternate future not-too-far-removed from 1979, a gigantic Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tanker suffers a catastrophic accident right in the middle of New York Harbour, unleashing a cloud of cryogenized methane. As soon as the winds pick up, the gas cloud will make its was to Brooklyn and Manhattan, where it will instantly freeze solid everything it encounters. Oh, and any spark will detonate the entire cloud. Eight million lives are at stake. The Brooklyn beaches are packed. Rush hour is about to begin. Welcome to frozen toxic catastrophe.
I have great admiration for writers who can pull off this type of disaster-building tension, where every option is gradually made impossible, and disaster seems inevitable whatever happens next. In this case, Moan efficiently sets up his situation and gradually shrinks the box in which his protagonists are placed. Structure-wise, it reads a lot like a Hollywood blockbuster, with just enough death and destruction before the invariably triumphant finish. There is a ghoulishly enjoyable death-and-destruction vignette in chapter 20 involving the World Trade Center “Windows on the World” restaurant.
This being said, it’s not a classic novel. For some reason, I was completely uninterested in the fate of any of the “average” characters caught in the disaster. I always wanted to go back to the president, the mayor, the engineer working at actually doing something about the problem. For this reason, the novel suffers a considerable lull in its second half before picking up again near the end. Even those active characters aren’t much more developed than their usual disaster-novel counterparts. In short, The Deadly Frost isn’t a particularly noteworthy novel once you’ve discarded the rather original premise.
It’s one thing for me, as a lowly book reviewer, to say such a thing. It’s quite another to find out that the rest of the English-speaking world seems to have collectively forgotten the novel.
I often do web searches on novels and authors, especially when they date a bit. I was stunned to find out that doing an Amazon search for “deadly frost” turned up one result, an out-of-print mention of the book as being written by “terence moan” [sic]. Even a Google search for “Terrence Moan” “deadly frost” turned up a measly two results. Moan himself seems to have become a real-estate developer in the Harlem area of New York City.
So I set out to write this review, as a more substantial notice that yes, Terrence Moan’s The Deadly Frost did indeed exist and that despite its faults, it wasn’t a bad novel.
As a reader, book-lover, collector and occasional librarian-groupie, I find the thought of a forgotten book to be infinitely disturbing; an affront to the natural order of human thought. New York City being fictionally transformed in a ball of toxic fire doesn’t creep me out nearly as much as the thought that a book once released by a major publisher might simply disappear from our collective memory, not even twenty-five years later.
Now that would be a catastrophe.