Absolute Zeroby Chuck Logan
On one of the coldest nights in Minnesota history, the difference between life and death is literally the blink of an eye for Phil Broker, until recently St. Paul's most successful undercover cop. That blink will convey the urgent warning of a comatose man who knows the dark truth binding Broker to a remarkable cast of characters -- a weary anesthesiologist, a
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On one of the coldest nights in Minnesota history, the difference between life and death is literally the blink of an eye for Phil Broker, until recently St. Paul's most successful undercover cop. That blink will convey the urgent warning of a comatose man who knows the dark truth binding Broker to a remarkable cast of characters -- a weary anesthesiologist, a brilliant surgeon, a wealthy novelist, his exwife (a reformed exotic dancer), and her unrepentant pimp.
For Broker it all began when he agreed to take three big-city professionals on a canoeing trip across Minnesota's most remote lakes. One of the three is horribly injured in a freak October blizzard, and Broker embarks on a white-knuckle rescue against time and the elements, ending with a writer in a coma and his accountant dead. Suspicious of foul play, Broker follows a twisted trail of manipulation and revenge that leads back to the writer's beautiful wife -- and a ring of men caught in a deadly competition for her affections.
Absolute Zero is suspense writing at its finest, a novel whose surprising reversals and unexpectedly nuanced characters secure Chuck Logan's reputation as "one of the best of the . . . thriller breed" and blows the lid off Minnesota's best-kept literary secret.
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Absolute ZeroChapter One
Broker was used to sleeping alone because his wife was in the army and, except for her pregnancy and a short maternity leave, she had been absent on deployments to Bosnia during most of their marriage. And he was used to waking up in a freezing sleeping bag because he'd grown up in Northern Minnesota. What he was having trouble adjusting to was waking up alone in the cold bag and seeing the pale stripe on the third finger of his left hand where his weddingband had been.
So he coughed and rubbed his eyes, and the absent ring cued up the agnostic rosary in the back of his mind: You just never know...never know...never know...and it was, yeah, yeah, and he was talking to himself and his lips moved to dismiss the thought, but he had to appreciate the irony. Mister Serious Student of the Unexpected.
Didn't see it coming, did you, dummy?
She'd left two weeks ago and took their three-year-old daughter, Kit, off to army day care somewhere in Europe.
She said he could come along and take care of Kit. He said she could quit the army and stay home. So it stuck there between them. Their daughter watched nervously as Mom and Dad agreed to take an informal time-out, removing their rings and storing them in the top drawer of the bedroom dresser.
His reaction to the standoff was to exile himself from people he knew and retreat into the North woods. He'd purge himself with fresh air and hard work. Specifically, Broker volunteered to close down his uncle Billie's outfitting lodge at the end of the canoeing season.
And now, as he greeted the ice-water dawn, the subject was stillfragile as glass. Carefully, he held it by the stem and tucked it away.
Uncle Billie and his golf clubs had hopped a Northwest Airlines flight to Broker's parents' condo in Arizona. Broker had hung a CLOSED sign across the driveway of the small resort he owned in Devil's Rock, north of Grand Marais, on the Lake Superior shore. Then he'd driven down Highway 61 to Illgen City, turned on Highway 1 northwest to Ely, in the Minnesota Iron Range. Arriving at Billie's Lodge, he found a list of instructions next to the telephone. The canoe trip was at the top.
Broker had looked over the permits and perused the clients' backgrounds. He'd be playing wilderness guide to Milton Dane, a lawyer; Allen Falken, a surgeon; and Hank Sommer, who called himself a writer. All three were from the Twin Cities area.
Broker told himself guiding was no big thing, that he'd done it lots of times.
But that was more than twenty years ago.
In the intervening time the canoes had been upgraded from aluminum to lighter Kevlar and fiberglass. The freeze-dried food and camping gear were much improved. But otherwise, the drill was the same. He studied the itinerary, selected the proper maps, and packed for a party of four, going in by canoe to shoot a moose among the lakes of the Boundary Water's Canoe Area, BWCA for short.
And now it was the third morning of the trip.
Broker blew on his chilled hands and rubbed them together. He'd gone to bed breathing in damp lake water, lichen, and pine needles moldering on granite bedrock. A mild rain had tapped on the tent walls and eased him off to sleep. Now a loud winter silence replaced the patter of raindrops and his breath clouded in the chill air.
Hank Sommer bumped him as he rolled over in the narrow tent and snored. He lay on his back, half out of his sleeping bag, with his mouth open. He had buckteeth and a receding chin disguised under a short, unruly beard. When Broker reached over and jabbed him in the ribs, Sommer rearranged himself and stopped snoring. His cell phone, which had caused so much debate on the trip, was nestled next to his cheek.
It became clear from the start that Broker had been hired to carry the load for Sommer and to paddle his canoe. "Sorry, I've got this little medical condition," Sommer had admitted at the start.
"What medical condition?" Broker had asked directly, since it could affect their travel.
"This, ah, little hernia thing," Sommer had said, patting his side. So every portage on the way in, Broker had humped the boat and went back twice to haul all the packs while Sommer eased along with just his rifle case and a small shoulder bag.
Allen Falken, the doctor, appeared none too pleased that Sommer had put off elective surgery to go on this trip. But, Allen conceded, it was a routine inguinal hernia, a painless minor bulge. For half the century, men just wore trusses. It should be all right as long as Sommer took it easy.
"He shouldn't lift over forty pounds."
"So if you get a moose, Sommer will take the picture and I'll carry the meat."
"Something like that," Allen had said.
It meant that Sommer was the weak link, so Broker wanted him in his canoe in case anything went wrong. Besides, he was curious. Sommer was a Minnesota fiction writer and Broker strictly a non-fiction guy had the feeling he should have heard of him. But he hadn't. He figured Sommer wanted to shoot a moose so he could write about it.
Broker was doing some hunting himself, but not for a trophy moose. Running from his marriage, he spent the days scouting the treelines and lakes half hoping to catch a younger, more resilient reflection of himself.
And he wasn't alone. By day three it was clear that marital discord paddled with them as Sommer conducted a nasty long-distance feud with his wife on his cell phone.
As they...Absolute Zero. Copyright © by Chuck Logan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Phillip Margolin, author of Wild Justice
George Pelecanos, author of Right as Rain
Meet the Author
Chuck Logan is the author of eight novels, including After the Rain, Vapor Trail, Absolute Zero, and The Big Law. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War who lives in Stillwater, Minnesota, with his wife and daughter.
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Good characters populate this enteratining story that is filled with unexpected twists and turns. My only problem was with the ending, but that's just nit-picking. I would recommend this book.