Freeze by Kate Simants

In Freeze, a group of strangers convene upon an Arctic ship in order to win the £100,000 prize offered by the new reality TV show, Frozen Out. At the simplest level, this novel is both a survival thriller and a locked-room mystery as the contestants face perils both planned and unplanned. At another level, it’s a story of female friendship – that between the producer and director/camerawoman of Frozen Out. However, Freeze goes further still, becoming a cautionary tale about the dangers of keeping secrets, and how those secrets eventually force their way out into the open.

The producer and face of Frozen Out is the vivacious Tori Matsuka. After over a decade of working in front of the camera, she has finally climbed high enough up the ladder to realise her ambition to make her own show. But it has been a struggle and to get the show into production she has taken on personal debt and has cut corners to bring Frozen Out in line with her budget. If the show fails, Tori will be sunk.

Part of Tori’s job is to present a confident, relaxed face to the contestants and crew, which is something she excels at. However, it becomes increasingly difficult because Will, her hapless, arrogant partner, is keeping secrets from her. Due to his financial dealings, the ship and the medic aboard are not fit for purpose.

Tori’s camerawoman is Dee, and frankly, she is a mess. Over the last few years, Dee has been working as an investigative journalist – a background her character shares with author Kate Simants. However, Dee’s last job ended in disaster. Things started to get messy when she had an affair with the teacher she was investigating, but even worse the man ended up dying in unusual circumstances. The planned exposé was abandoned. Not only is Dee wracked with guilt over the death of her lover, which she assumes was a suicide, she is desperate to keep it a secret. If the scandal broke, it could mean the end of her career.

Tori and Dee are old friends and colleagues, but their relationship is strained to breaking point. They are no longer communicating. Tori can’t understand why Dee is so withdrawn while Dee, unaware of the risks Tori is taking, is becoming suspicious of Tori’s determination that the show must go on.

Then, disaster strikes. Candidate John, a quiet, older man, is found dead in his locked cabin before the first challenge. To Dee’s disbelief, Tori wants to continue with the show despite the fatality. The cause of death isn’t clear, and the crew believe that the authorities must be notified. Considering that someone threw Tori overboard the previous night, foul play can’t be ruled out. Furthermore, John and Tori had switched cabins, so perhaps Tori was the intended victim.

As the show continues, more and more fractures occur between the contestants, the programme makers and the ship’s crew. One of the contestants, a Youtuber called Wolf, is Tori’s ex and he’s angry about the way they split. A macho type, he also butts heads with a disgraced athlete with anger issues. Other contestants are gradually revealed to have a range of personal secrets as well. To top it off, an Arctic storm is brewing and the coming whiteout might provide the killer with the perfect opportunity to strike again.

Simants has put all the elements together for a nail-biting thriller. The setting is great, a site full of potential even before things begin to go wrong, and the main characters are efficiently fleshed out. Their motivations are clear and realistic. However, I felt the book falls down in some important areas. The principle issue is that, perhaps Tori aside, the various people in the book are largely an unlikeable bunch. My engagement with the story floundered as I found myself less engaged with them as time went by. Meanwhile, if you’re in it for the mystery, you might find it a little too easy to identify the killer.

Those reservations aside, Freeze has a solid concept, plenty of suspense and a story with several layers that keep the novel interesting.

For a different spin on reality shows, also see Hide by Kiersten White.

Viper Books

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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