Tanner On Ice
by Lawrence Block
Review by Don Metzler
Harper Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061283932
Date: 01 October 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Cryogenically frozen since the early 1970s, superspy Evan Tanner has been on ice, literally, for more than 25 years. In 1997 his chilly tomb is discovered during the basement remodel of a house in Union City, New Jersey. His body is gradually brought back to normal temperatures by medical experts in the field. When he eventually regains consciousness, Tanner needs a few minutes to adjust to the idea of 25 years having passed without his body aging, and that there have been five U.S. presidents since the man he remembers: Richard Nixon. Once all of this is explained to his satisfaction, he nimbly hops off the examining table, demands that his clothes be brought to him, and checks himself out of the hospital.
He finds that his old apartment is miraculously still intact, with his own name still posted next to the doorbell. Minna, the Lithuanian orphan whom he had rescued and brought to New York when she was six years old, has been maintaining his apartment, and awaiting his return, for all of this time. So Tanner moves back in to his same old digs. Minna shows him how to use the internet, and he begins a several week crash course to familiarize himself with the events of a world that he has not been a part of for the last quarter century.
He is contacted by his old boss. The mysterious "Chief" is still in business, still a coordinator of espionage missions. But due to a lack of government funding the Chief now operates in the private sector. His clients? The shadowy, behind-the-scenes secret billionaires and financiers of the world. With scant preamble other than, "Glad to have you back," the Chief declares that he has a job for Tanner: travel to Burma and find a way to destabilize the current government, even if that end can only be achieved through assassination. And so begins Tanner's latest adventure.
Despite this being a highly readable novel, there are elements of the story that are left unresolved at the conclusion of the book. They are either poorly explained or in some cases just plain don't make sense. Without giving too much away, I can say that the plot's resolution feels more like an event that happened accidentally, or that would have come about with or without Tanner's involvement, rather than an outcome that is due to anything specific that Tanner initiated. While it could be argued that this may be a more real-life scenario than we would generally find in a book of this sort, the typical reader of suspense and adventure novels is looking for his hero to actually do something, rather than to be an onlooker, a seemingly helpless bystander.
Had Tanner On Ice been written by almost any other author, this would make for an unsatisfying read. However, Block's mastery of his craft is so complete and his situations so gripping that he is able to pull off what for a lesser writer would be an almost impossible task. Even given its flaws, this book is still great fun to read. Strong, well-drawn and engaging characters are one of Block's trademarks, and he does not stint on that score in Tanner On Ice. Tanner On Ice was originally published in 1998. This 2007 reprint includes a new afterward by the author, explaining some interesting details about how he came to write this book after a break from this character of more than a quarter century. Good stuff.