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on 14 February 2013
Compelling to say the least.

Meticulously researched, the author really creates the feeling that one is there just as Scott and his men were on their ill-fated trip. There is a uncomfortable sense of foreboding which simmers almost beneath the text throughout the novel.

Very well written, un-put-down-able and highly recommended.
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on 3 September 2012
Just finished reading Dead Men. I bought this on a recommendation and thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is one of those books that make you seem compelled to turn the page. Great use of historical fact with a love story.
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on 24 July 2015
Excellent book - beautifully written, with adventure, romance, storylines that operate on several different scales, and characters that capture the imagination. Nearly missed my train stop. Enough said.
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on 14 April 2012
Four years ago when I first encountered Richard's writing on Harper Collins' website Authonomy, I knew I was in the presence of a writer. A real wordsmith. When it was first announced that Dead Men would be published, I eagerly awaited the opportunity to forward order. I had absolutely no doubt that this book would be a tour de force. From the first rough sample I read, to the finished product in my hands today, I can truly say that this book above all has been worth waiting for.

Everything about the story rings true. The icing on the cake of this deceptively simple tale of life and love, loss and all consuming passion is the power of authenticity. Richard has captured the essence of not only a love story, but the ice cold world of the Antarctic. His childhood passion gleams from every page. Not just in the power of imagination but in reality. He knows of what he writes. He has been there, he has experienced the remote and cruel beauty of this distant place, he understands the power of the dream which claimed the lives of Scott and his men. Richard translates this personal journey into words brilliantly. There is nothing out of place. Nothing that jars the senses. You feel the heartbreak that Scott must have felt, to be so close, but so far. There are no trite explanations, but the offering of a solution as to why Scott and his men, Bowers and Wilson died just eleven miles from safety. As a memorial to the true heroes of exploration, Dead Men is a beautiful and memorable tribute. If you read only one novel this year, make it Dead Men.
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on 16 June 2015
Enjoyed it so much the first time that I will definitely be reading it again sometime soon.
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on 8 June 2012
One always thinks one is taking a bit of a risk when embarking on reading a new author's first novel. But I can assure you there is no risk here. As the title of this review says, Richard Pierce's book is a triumph.

Others have summarised the plot: there is no need for me to do so as well. Let me instead concentrate on the style. I admit that, when I saw that large parts of the book were written in first person present tense, I was a little worried. But Pierce pulls it off. It turns out to be a useful way to differentiate between those passages (written in third person past tense) set in earlier times and those which recount the present day story of Birdie (the artist) and Adam, the splendid cricketing smoker and boozer who falls for her.

I think I should also mention that Pierce is that very rare thing, a modern writer who can avoid the temptation to dump information on his reader in order to demonstrate how clever he is. And the temptation must have been strong. After all, the story is about a 21st century couple investigating a part of history. I could name a great many successful novelists who would have bored us silly, tackling this subject, with endless repetition of facts which are, or ought to be, known to most readers. Richard Pierce, I salute you for refusing to tell us Captain Oates's last words! What he does is give us fascinating snippets of the famous polar expedition while properly assuming that his readers will be entirely familiar with the basic facts.

No, I was not overdoing it when I said this book is a triumph. It is, and I strongly recommend it.

Charles
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on 3 March 2014
First - the non-fictional context of the book, for those unfamiliar with it. 2014 has witnessed a first in Antarctica. Ben Saunders and his colleague Tarka L'Herpiniere have completed an 1800 mile walk from Ross Island in Antarctica to the South Pole and back - the very same route which Scott just failed to complete a century ago. And because of modern technology many of us were privileged to be able to follow their daily blogs. I was one, as was Richard Pierce, the author of 'Dead Men'. And that is how I became aware of him - since he took every opportunity via his blog responses, to invite us to download the Kindle version of this his first novel!

'Dead Men' is the story of Adam who by chance meets a wacky young woman called Henrietta 'Birdie' Bowers who has inherited her passion for all things Scott and the Antarctic from her father (hence the soubriquet 'Birdie' - Henry 'Birdie' Bowers was a companion of Scott). Her obsession is to one day find the preserved bodies of Scott and his four companions - a mission one might regard as a pipe dream, (since they died a hundred years ago on a sea borne ice sheet which is slowly moving northwards to progressively calve into the open sea). But Adam falls in love with Birdie, and hence decides to throw in his lot with her, hook line and sinker. And so the story procedes.

The format of the novel is quite clever. It is written in the first person - by Adam. I don't know Richard Pierce but I suspect there is very much of him in Adam. Interspersed with Adam's narrative, are vignettes of the Scott story, from a number of perspectives - Scott himself - his wife Kathleen - and Apsley Cherry-Garrard (who was in Scott's support party and wrote the wonderful book 'The Worst Journey in the World'). These interspersions give Pierce the opportunity to show how much he knows of the Scott story - and, to give him due credit, it is clear he has thoroughly researched and immersed himself in the primary material. But he is not the first to play with these characters. ( You may wish to compare his efforts with Beryl Bainbridge's 'The Birthday Boys').

So why do I only award the novel 'two stars'? I am clearly in a minority, since I note that other Amazon reviewers shower the book with what sometimes seem to approach orchestrated plaudits.

Firstly, I was totally unconvinced by the emerging relationship between Adam and Birdie. For me, both characters were poorly drawn, and though I know that love can be blind, their reactions to one another were often incredible.

Secondly, I thought the language of the novel was lacking. It was at its best when describing the aura of Antarctica - an aura which Pierce has direct experience of. It was least successful when conveying the emotions of the two principal characters, lacking subtlety.

My next problem was with the plot which I felt was totally preposterous and unconvincing. Even if it were technically possible, why would anyone want to search for the polar party's bodies ? Morbid curiosity? Birdie's reasons smacked more of madness than anything else. And though I am aware of other successful bids to uncover bodies preserved in the Arctic, I found this aspect of the novel's plot somewhat distasteful, especially as it is known that surviving members of the expedition (including Cherry-Garrard) who discovered those bodies in late 1912, took measures to ensure they were not disturbed again. Without wishing to reveal a spoiler, I should also add that the end of the novel was ... perhaps 'ludicrous' is too strong a word ... certainly unedifying.

Other aspects of the novel's plot also jarred. When Adam and Birdie finally get to New Zealand and the Antarctic they are given virtually unfettered access to artefacts in the museum and again to Scott's hut. I have not been to the Antarctic. I know Richard Pierce has. Is he suggesting that the New Zealand authorities allow such behaviour? Not from what I know of their herculean efforts to preserve the heritage which remains.

A further problem for me was the nature of the episodic interspersions of the original Scott story. I confess that these may well have been enlightening for readers who know little of that saga. And it is hoped they may provide a source of encouragement for some to read the superb original writings of Scott, Cherry-Garrard. Kathleen Scott etc. But for me, they added nothing to the plot. And though based on accurate observations, I was somewhat unhappy with Pierce's speculative embroidery of their thoughts, motives and emotions.

I also got a little annoyed with some of the author's apparently throwaway 'prejudices'. I give two examples. Speaking of Cherry-Garrard - "Then came the first of two world wars, a needless war. He served in ...." Why include this contentious assertion? Many may think the 1WW was 'needless'. Others would totally disagree. Then again - Adam speaking - "I like this place.... not Spartan and puritan like our cold English churches where we go to be punished rather than forgiven." Why such a monstrous generalisation?

I hope I have not been too negative about this debut novel. I admire Richard Pierce for his passion for Antarctica. I applaud his attempt to create a novel based on his undoubted knowledge and interest. But for me (though I admit not for others), the novel did not come off. And that was a great pity, because I have to admit, despite everything, I enjoyed reading it!
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on 11 August 2014
Good book x
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on 24 April 2012
I so enjoyed this book. The plot is unique and compelling, as are the characters. I am an avid reader of Scott-related stories, so 2012 has been a great year! If you enjoyed this book, might I suggest an excellent poetry collection that I found equally compelling and enjoyable, that relates more closely to Scott: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-March-Kiran-Millwood-Hargrave/dp/0956782264/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335291581&sr=8-1
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on 28 June 2012
As a novice scholar of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913, I was drawn to this book as I am to all things Scott-related. The synopsis at the back was certainly intruiging so I couldn't wait to get stuck in but it went downhill from about page 5. I know it's a work of fiction but really, the premise is shockingly preposterous. Ageing computer hack can't stop staring at a frail and beautiful young woman on the tube, oh look she's fainted, said hack goes to her aid and discovers she's called Birdie Bowers and so begins this tale of man falling for what appears to be a bipolar female Banksy with an obsession for all things Antarctic/Scott related. Oh please. The writing is also shockingly bad too with phrases like "...a crevasse of emotions..." peppered througout. Overall, this novel was just embarassingly bad and any serious student of the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration will be disappointed. It's just shockingly bad. How on earth did it get published?
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