Death under the northern lights

The Trudeau Vector

Arctic cold is just one of the potential killers in Juris Jurjevics’ first novel, The Trudeau Vector. In this engrossing thriller, four scientists are found dead outside an international resesarch station in the Canadian Arctic. Three of them are horribly contorted, their pupils and irises missing. The fourth seems to have evaded whatever killed his colleagues only to have, in the words of an investigator, “turned himself into a popsicle.”

Dr. Jessica Hanley, a crack American epidemiologist, is dispatched from California to determine the cause of the ghastly deaths. She lands at Trudeau Station, located on a small Canadian island in a sea of ice, at the beginning of the long Arctic night. For the next four months the sun will not be seen and the troubled research centre will be plunged into inaccessible darkness.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, an old Cold Warrior named Admiral Rudenko is ordered by his superiors to locate a missing Russian submarine. Its last communication was a distress call issued from a Norwegian fjord. The submarine’s previous port of call was a hole in the ice at Trudeau Station, where it had retrieved the fifth and only surviving member of the group of scientists discovered on the ice.

Were the scientists deliberately poisoned? If so, with what? Did they ingest or inhale chemical toxins? Or were they accidentally exposed to some kind of bacterial life brought into contact with humans for the first time through the alarmingly rapid warming of the arctic climate?

In her attempts to discover what, and possibly who, killed the scientists, epidemiologist Hanley is thrown into the intense tangle of relationships that has evolved at Trudeau Station. Though accustomed to putting her work first, Hanley also struggles with guilt about leaving her son in California for four months while she pursues her investigation. She has little in the way of evidence besides the contorted bodies of the victims and a cryptic entry in one of the deceased researchers’ notes.

The Trudeau Vector is crammed with fascinating information, whether the setting is the Arctic, California, Moscow or the inside of a post-Soviet Russian admiral’s head. We learn that Arctic temperatures are hard on dental work (the cold makes amalgam fillings contract and fall out); that there is an Inuit word meaning “she is kindly disposed to him after having not loved him” and another for “shit happens.” Jurjevics is conversant not only with the language of submarines, medical technology and epidemiology, but also Japanese culinary habits, French-Canadian literature and the engineering possibilities of a research station designed to resemble a giant igloo.

His investigator, Hanley, is a prickly character even when compared with such moodily independent female investigators as Kay Scarpetta, V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone. Hanley is a mass of contradictions, a hippie epidemiologist devoted to wheatgrass juice, Bach Flower Remedies and cigarettes. One of her kindlier colleagues calls her a “nicotine-addicted nature girl,” while her ex-husband complains that her medical advice always sounds like lawn care. Her somewhat abrasive spunkiness will either charm or annoy, depending upon the reader. Particularly at the outset, she is prone to statements so startlingly eccentric that one wonders how she can hold down a job. However, she is a brilliant scientist—and that, in fiction, is enough.

The characters of Rudenko and the other Cold Warriors are drawn with sympathy and, indeed, some romance. Admiral Rudenko’s plight is particularly poignant: that of a one-time naval hero sidelined by a new Russia given over to cell phones, shopping and mafija. In all, the author’s sheer invention is breathtaking—enough to create a finely-drawn, cutting-edge Arctic research station, with plenty left over for sly asides like naming an entomologist Dr. Skudra (in Latvian, “Dr. Ant”). The book is permeated by a sense of outrage at the destruction of the Arctic by global warming, pollution and governmental indifference. It’s safe to say that this is one novelist who will not be called upon to testify before the U.S. Senate about climate change.

The Trudeau Vector is tremendously suspenseful, especially if the idea of being in a submarine makes you nervous. If it doesn’t, there is the intrinsic horror of a place where just stepping outside can prove fatal. Jurjevics succeeds in conveying the weird beauty of the extreme north, its utter and disorienting strangeness.

Jurjevics is the Latvia-born co-founder and publisher of Soho Press in New York City. Among the titles released by Soho is Agate Nesaule’s 1995 autobiography, A Woman in Amber: Healing the Trauma of War and Exile.


The Trudeau Vector

Juris Jurjevics

New York:  Viking (The Penguin Group),  2005

ISBN 0670034371

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One thought on “Death under the northern lights

  1. Just finished reading Trudeau Vector. Agree with Diana’a comments; it’s a real page-turner (for science geeks like myself, anyway). Speaking of Dr. Skudra, the only other Latvian word I recalled in the book was misspelled — “paldeis” Drives the nit-picker in me crazy. Buy and read the book anyway. ak

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