Excerpt from The Ice Child by Elizabeth McGregor, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Ice Child

by Elizabeth McGregor

The Ice Child
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  • First Published:
    May 2001, 400 pages
    Sep 2002, 448 pages

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Alongside Marshall's biography was a copy of the Saturday article.

He had gone missing at a place called Uummannatsiaq.

Frowning, Jo went over to one of the moving firm's boxes, where she rummaged for a moment among the books inside. She emerged with her old school atlas and sat down with it, rifling through the pages.

Uummannatsiaq ... she couldn't even find it. She looked across from the islands of the Northwest Passage, over Baffin Bay, to Greenland. Even from the map she could see that the coastline there was mountainous and unforgiving. Surely at this time of year there would be ice packed deep into the fjords and way out to sea. If, indeed, the ice ever broke up at these places. She shuddered involuntarily. She had never liked the cold, and the thought of spending even one day in such an unforgiving climate was horrendous. Give her a beach with warm sand, somewhere that you could kick off your shoes and clothes.

She smiled to herself and flicked back through the atlas pages.

The book was a mixed bag of memories. Inside the cover her own childish hand had written her name, followed by the address she'd had at seven: Rheindahlen JHQ, West Germany. Her father, a career civil servant, and already fifty when Jo had been born, had been an advisor to the MOD. The atlas pages were grainy and thick, the lettering and layout old fashioned. As her father regularly traveled, it had been her daily ritual when a child to find where in the world Daddy might be. She vividly recalled turning to those countries, known to her even now by the texture of the paper under her fingers. She'd traced her father to places in the world whose very names had become part of his identity. Kuwait. Singapore. The Falkland Islands. More islands. Offshore islands like these, swept by wind and current. She looked at the great green sweep of Canada now, fringed with its border of ice.

She closed the page and replaced the book.

As she did so, she paused to look at the frayed red spine of the returned atlas, so out of place among the newer paperbacks, its fabric shedding, showing the cardboard underneath. The expression on her face was impenetrable. She had lost both father and mother in the last five years, and the isolation was still fresh.

Yet people like Douglas Marshall actually chose to exile themselves. She wondered, still staring at the spine of the school atlas, what kind of family she would find, waiting for Marshall's return.

Only as she finally turned out the light did she catch sight of the fax machine again in the hallway. With a cup of coffee balanced in the crook of her arm, she pulled the piece of paper out, and managed to tear it.

Doug Marshall's face, ripped in two, stared back at her.

On the top of the piece of paper Gina had scrawled, This is your man.

She slotted the two halves together. It was not a great photo.

Marshall's face was screwed up against bright sunlight. Impossible to guess his age from that shot, though she might have tried at something less than the biography had told her. A frown into the camera, a backdrop of ocean. He was leaning on a white rail and holding something in one hand. She squinted at the image.

Impossible to say what it was that he was holding. It could have been a piece of iron, a metal rod, a wooden stick.

She sighed as she trailed to the bedroom.

"Oh, I'm going to love you," she muttered as she closed the door.

The Exploration Academy was housed in a Georgian building, set back in its own gardens. It had once been a private house, whose discreet black railings, ornately finished with complicated patterns of leaves and vines, separated the residence from the street.

McCullock Road was in the heart of the city, close to Lion Yard, and by the time Jo got there, just before eight, the traffic was already building up. Cars were backed up in the narrow street, waiting for a delivery van unloading in front of one of the colleges. A hundred yards away down the street Jo glimpsed an archway with a wooden door, a green quadrangle beyond, a red coat of arms on the medieval wall above.

Copyright 2001, Elizabeth McGregor. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher - Dutton Books.

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