Tropical Ice, a book by KL (Ken) Smith, (review)
First chapters are important to me. They often determine whether I’ll keep on reading or put a book down in favor of another. That’s especially true with thrillers. Suffice it to say my curiosity was such that chapter one of Tropical Ice sucked me in to chapter two. I continued through all forty-nine chapters, pretty much non-stop.
Tropical Ice offers a host of colorful characters, a few of whom include heavy-drinking Jack Africa. He owns a small Belize island and offers diving tours featuring sharks on a feeding frenzy. A tour gone wrong has shut down his operation and puts him on a list of potential murder suspects. Charlie Tuna, underwater photographer and one of Jack’s assistants, is bit of a loner with a rebellious inclination. Matthew Oliver, a freelance writer commissioned to do a puff piece on why Americans should vacation in Belize, gradually and reluctantly uncovers a much more complex story fraught with danger and intrigue. Inspector Barnstable, in charge of local law enforcement, doesn’t trust Matt. He’s hell bent on making sure Matt leaves Belize City and never returns. Trey Turnbull, wealthy American benefactor and board member of the Global Fund for Wildlife, has flown to Belize to be guest of honor at an international Global Fund dinner. Martin Chin is a Belize City businessman of questionable ethics who seems to own the whole town.
Tropical Ice is a rousing, action-packed whodunit with lots of “who” candidates. There are good guys, bad guys and a few I’m not-so-sure guys. And what would a thriller be without bloodshed, a murder or two, some bad decisions followed by “just in the nick of time” rescues, a bit of luck, a couple of “I didn’t see that coming” surprises and a smattering of convenient coincidences. And, of course, there’s the requisite love interest as well as an ex-girlfriend who’s now merely a friend.
Smith writes well. He plants clues and occasional red herrings that move you along as you come to know the characters. He keeps you engaged with metaphors—“Like a ten-legged ballerina, a lobster tiptoed on point across the sand"—and his sense of humor caused me to laugh aloud a number of times.
Tropical Ice is a fast-moving thriller, but there’s more. The story educates on two levels. First, it’s believably descriptive. I feel like I know Belize in a detailed way I never could have, short of spending a few weeks there. I’m not a diver, but the book offers a vivid word picture of what I would see if I were. I was there, viscerally, with Matt & Jack as they explored the ocean floor off the islands of Belize. As I read, I could visualize Tropical Ice being one helluva movie. Or perhaps a Netflix mini-series, offering the same gut-wrenching impact as The Fall.
More importantly, though, Ken has a strong commitment to environmental responsibility. It resonates throughout Tropical Ice. Don’t let his recurrent environmental message deter you. It may open your eyes to some horrific practices you’re only casually aware of. And the environmental atrocities are an integral part of the story. The book is called an Eco-Thriller for a reason. I recommend you read the first chapter of Tropical Ice. I suspect you’ll continue turning pages.