Review of ‘The Freezer’ by Timothy S Johnston

The Freezer is the second in a series of science-fiction mystery/thrillers starring Lt Kyle Tanner. Trying to solve a murder while racing against the clock of your own impending death makes for a tense and thrilling experience, but that can only do so much with a shallow cast of characters, unbelievable plot, and somersaulting story contrivances to bring it all home to roost. A book that started off with a lot of potential, and then devolved into heavy-handed social commentary and nearly arbitrary plot developments. Competent, but nothing to radio back Earth about.

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CCF homicide investigator Kyle Tanner and his girlfriend are on their way to Pluto, en route to a new life together. Just one little death to check out in the asteroid belt first. But when you’re as tangled up in conspiracy as Tanner is, a few hours on a case can change your life. Or end it.

The mystery is a strange one—one man dead, a cryptic message his dying breath. Still, Tanner’s ready to wrap it up until another gruesome murder shakes him to his core. The discovery of a microscopic bomb near his own heart offers the first faint clue, but the clock is ticking. He has four days….

A desperate search for answers takes Tanner to The Freezer, an isolated facility on one of Jupiter’s moons. With anti-CCF dissidents targeting the facility, a team of scientists conducting experiments the military would rather remain hidden, and a mysterious man in white hunting him on the ice, Tanner will have to choose his allies carefully. Putting his faith in the wrong person will leave him bleeding out in seconds.

A lot of the press I see about The Freezer on Amazon, and Mr Johnston’s website makes sure to tout the ‘claustrophobic’ feeling of the setting, and how this increases the tension. And sure, the titular ‘Freezer’ is a small base, and steps are taken to make sure it feels small. But the story doesn’t start there, or even especially develop its way there. Things are happening elsewhere and Tanner just up and decides ‘welp, better go check out this isolated claustrophobic place, nothing will go wrong there!’ which is the first of many times the story made me shake my head and wonder, if this was supposed to be all about that feeling, why not have the murder victim die there, or die in a way that read more realistically there? It felt forced when there was no reason to need to force it at all. There was also a pretty much needless ‘timer’ element happening presumably in the name of tension, which put a hard time limit on how long Tanner had to solve his case. There were, again, so many ways this element could have been included which would have been more effective, and even without that element, the story could have continued virtually exactly how it did.

The characters as well, were not exactly deep and well developed. Clocking in at just over 300 pages, there was plenty of time to work on the very small cast of a half dozen characters. Instead, they’re treated to an entirely superficial sentence or two once or twice throughout the story, and then a bit of blatant exposition from Tanner’s inner monologue thinking about reading their personnel files. The fact that the female characters were universally described within the context of Tanner’s attraction to them physically was pretty off putting as well. The man has a love of his life who has made him whole and complete, and even above that is under a great deal of emotional stress at the time he meets these characters, and they’re described as ‘beautiful’ ‘attractive’ and he spends some inner monologue time thinking about how he desires them sexually. Even having just finished this story yesterday, I’m hard pressed to tell you much of anything about what they look like, or are like, beyond the most basic sketches.

Not that Tanner is all that much better. He’s touted as the ‘top’ investigator of the CCF which is a hilariously Nazi-analogous party which runs Humanity with an Iron Fist. Tanner is supposed to be the leading edge of that fist, and he spends the entire story hemming and hawing about how he’s totally sympathetic to dissidents, despite the fact that even knowing about a dissident and not reporting it can be grounds for execution. I just refuse to believe any group that is in total control of the sociopolitical machine, to the point of there being a CCF representative on an isolated base with eight people in it, is going to miss that their ‘top’ man is a sympathizer. He also is happy to bypass multiple incidents which he thinks and even states are grounds for summary execution. He gets internally angry when somebody fails to call him ‘sir’ but is happy to just look the other way when somebody calls him a Nazi? He might be supposed to seem conflicted, but instead he just seems hypocritical. Equilibrium did this many times more effectively, to say nothing for 1984.

That said, the story wasn’t bad just extremely disappointing. The very baseline *shrug* feeling I have about the story is more a problem because of the comparatively high hopes I had as the tale began to develop. But the claustrophobia felt contrived at best, the characters flat, and the story needlessly convoluted. The hallmark of a good mystery/thriller is that the reader should be able to follow along with the investigation and have an idea about what is going on, and then at least have that idea be somewhere in the ballpark of the truth. I recently wrote an article called Five Ways to Never End Your Story and one of the entries therein was exactly this: Throwing an otherwise entirely untelegraphed curveball into the story just made it feel like I should stop bothering. Add all that in together, and you’re left with a story that can, sadly, stay on ice.

Dan was given an Advanced Review Copy of this book courtesy of Carina Press

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Author: Dan Ruffolo

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