Dual-time novels seem to be in vogue these days. Some feel contrived and out of balance, shifting mechanically between decades or centuries to no purpose. Dead Men is one of those that works – all the more amazing because this is a debut novel for Richard Pierce.
In modern times, we meet Birdie Bowers, a young woman obsessed with her namesake’s claim to fame as one of the five Arctic explorers who died on Captain Scott’s famous 1912 expedition to the South Pole. She determines to retrace the ill-fated journey and finds in young drifter Adam a willing accomplice. This is a modern-day love story, on one hand, Adam falling for Birdie the moment he meets her in a London train station. But it’s also a reimagining of the story, 100 years earlier, of the men who lost their lives in a gamble for fame. The result is touchingly tragic, from the very first scene.
Pierce’s style waxes from spare prose, dialogue-heavy, to poetically reflective. In a conversation about art between Birdie and Adam, she says: “If you visualize something—doesn’t matter if you’re writing or painting—you’re much more likely to be able to take your audience with you. If you just make something up that you don’t really believe in, then it doesn’t mean a thing.” In Dead Men, the author most definitely takes the reader with him.