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May 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Tropical Ice, an Eco-thriller

if you like Undercurrent, you’ll love this

from the May, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Tropical Ice - Book

Some successful fiction writers fail to research their subjects properly. I get irritated when reading a best-selling author who describes people being eaten by schooling hammerhead sharks in the Mediterranean when I know how skittish hammerheads are and how they are not encountered in such temperate waters. It destroys the credibility of the story.

I can assure you, that doesn't happen in Tropical Ice. KL Smith knows his subject. And well he should. I'll tell you why later.

In his first novel -- this is a commercially published novel, not self-published -- he's writing about what he knows and has experienced. Although I'm familiar with how long it takes a trivially cut finger to mend, I am awe-inspired by the ability of his reluctant hero to suffer the slings and arrows of unfortunate encounters and keep fighting back. It's an adventure story that any fan of Clive Cussler would enjoy, but, as one major reviewer, Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys/October Sky and Carrying Albert Home, wrote, Smith is a better writer!

Set in Belize, which the author has dived countless times, Tropical Ice is a story of shark-finning and reef-raping and wildlife crime on an industrial scale -- and a bit of love story, I might add -- all with conservation overtones. There is murder and politics alongside lesser skullduggery. You'll sense a creature's eyes on a night dive, feel the sandpaper skin of a shark on your bare back, and almost taste the sweat dripping off your eyebrows as you push through the underbrush on Snapper Caye. It all takes place at Cap'n Jack Africa's Rum Caye Dive Resort, where Jack's trying to save his failing resort with shark-feeding dives, at least until a body turns up in the damnedest place. There's no azure blue sea with palm fronds rustling in the breeze in this tale. (By the way, I've been told that Cap'n Don of Bonaire inspired this character.)

A reluctant travel writer (is that a description of the author?), the book's hero, Matt Oliver, is in trouble with the Belize police before he's even off the plane. He gets caught up in a conspiracy involving jaguar trophy hunting, shark finning and plundering the reefs for seahorses for phony aphrodisiacs. There are corrupt officials, immoral American conservationists, dives where thugs hound him, lavish dinners featuring endangered species, and a little bit of romance -- though no overt sex. With plenty of twists and turns in the hurtlingly fast plot, you'll be flipping pages through surprising twists and turns that keep you glued to the text, all the way to the surprising events at the end. I sure didn't see them coming.

There's fidelity to the descriptions of what happens both above and below the water that is often lacking in other books, yet it's crafted by someone who knows how to weave a story, obviously an experienced writer. Thankfully, there are no scuba diving technical gaffes either. No oxygen tanks!

If you are familiar with no-see-ums and the taste of rum in the hot sun, this book will appeal. If your life is more sedentary, you can marvel at what this reluctant writer fights to overcome, as he's driven to find the truth about what's going down. And you'll come away with a view of the dark underside of tropical living known only to insiders. A page-turner and a great thriller novel -- the perfect beach -read, as they say.

Such a good writer, so well informed, but from where did he suddenly appear? Well, like any good journalist worth his salt, I did my own research and discovered that KL Smith is none other than Undercurrent's own Ben Davison. If you like Undercurrent, you will love this book. And next month, he'll tell you about that nom de plume.

Tropical Ice is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback ($13) or Kindle, and in bookstores. You can order a signed copy for $19 (proceeds go to reef conservation) at goo.gl/19Y1Ne

- john@undercurrent.org

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