Crime Story based on the style of writing of

Ice Station Zebra (1750 - 1900)

By Zara Y

Captain Henderson of the Royal Navy was young but looked younger. His weather-beaten, freckled face was topped with an unruly mop of straw blond hair, his skinny frame made him look more like a boy than the man chosen to captain the pride of his country’s great naval fleet. As I took a second and closer look at him, the icy winter fog had thrown it’s misty darkness, like a frozen veil, over the cold bleak setting, preventing me from seeing what I should have seen the first time. His eyes. Whatever his eyes were, they shone with a clear steady wisdom far beyond his years. Captain Henderson fixed his gaze on me but gave nothing away.

“I’m sorry, Dr Moriarty.” The clipped London accent was soft yet almost harshly polite, and without any genuine regret that I could detect, as he folded the letter back into its envelope and handed it to me. “I am afraid that neither this letter or yourself are sufficiently authorised to board my ship. Don’t take it personally; I have my orders.”

“Not sufficiently authorised? Who do you think this is - the resident window cleaner at the Admiralty?” It wasn’t funny, and as I looked at him in the descending dusk I began to believe that he was older than I had initially thought. The Captain said cooly:

“Admiral Mycroft is commander of the Royal Navy, and on Navy exercises I come under his command and his command alone. And I’m afraid I must also point out, Dr Moriarty, that you could have arranged for anyone in London to send this letter.” He missed nothing, that was a fact, but his suspicion was unwarranted. “I’m afraid I cannot accept this a sufficient authorisation”. Captain Henderson turned on his heel and within two or three steps had faded into the rapidly blackening darkness.

The night was draped over the dockyard like a blanket, and on the barely discernable horizon the inky sea blended with the endless sky. Somewhere out there was bright, bustling civilisation, but looking down at the sharp lapping of the bottomless water, this place felt like the end of the world. I hadn’t expected Captain Henderson to accept me as his passenger, but then again, who would expect a highly ranked naval officer to allow a mysterious stranger aboard an elite warship on a secret mission. A mission unheard of by all but the most highly ranked government officials, a mission whose many connections spanned the four corners of the earth like strands of a spider’s web, luring in and then ensnaring its vulnerable victims. Somewhere out there lay the spider, a deadly predator preparing to strike, a deadly predator in whose shadow I live.  

I stood, motionless, dwarfed by the shadow of the bulk of the warship. It was the dead of night; witching hour. The perfect time for a ship to embark on a mission shrouded in secrecy. I heard the soft clatter of the moorings being untied and knew that I had timed it perfectly. Nobody would be expecting a lone stranger to risk climbing aboard. But I had calculated it perfectly: there would be no risk. I deftly unscrewed the cover from the hidden trapdoor that I had taken the liberty of installing earlier and vanished into the depths of the vessel. The dockhand took one last glance around the deserted shipyard before leaving me alone, alone on an infinite ocean.

Commentary of my crime story

For my narrative product, I wrote in the style of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra. My audience would be fans of the crime genre and my purpose to entertain. There are many references to both the book and the film throughout popular culture.

I firstly recognised that MacLean opened his narrative depicting a main character with a set of descriptive sentences, so I adopted this style by describing one of my characters; “Captain Henderson….great naval fleet”. I have used lots of adjective clusters to by as descriptive as possible. This helped me establish the setting with the reader and give lots of information about the character to suit the crime style.

I also mirrored MacLean’s heavy use of description to continue describing Captain Henderson as having, “an unruly mop of straw blond hair”, using pre-modification to show the contrast between the character’s appearance and the character’s mindset, which fit my overall purpose for Captain Henderson to resolve a tricky situation later in the story. Alongside this, I mirrored MacLean’s use of similes and complex syntax structure to create a sinister atmosphere by saying, “ the icy winter fog had thrown it’s misty darkness, like a frozen veil, over the cold bleak setting”. Through this technique I was able to adopt MacLean’s characterisation style and introduce my 19th century sailor to my reader. My use of sarcasm, “without any genuine regret that I could detect” allowed me to get my character’s voice across, alongside linking to the novel Ice Station Zebra. ““Not sufficiently authorised? Who do you think this is - the resident window cleaner at the Admiralty?”” uses humour and further exemplifies my character’s personality and again links to the style model.

I have used heavy description, “on the barely discernable horizon the inky sea blended with the endless sky” to create an air of mystery and to link back to the mysterious crime genre. Also, I have used contrast, “Somewhere out there was bright, bustling civilisation, but looking down at the sharp lapping of the bottomless water” to show that although the opening chapter of the novel is quiet and simple the rest of the novel may not be. Alongside this, I have mirrored MacLean’s use of similes to portray the enemy as animalistic by saying, “a mission whose many connections spanned the four corners of the earth like strands of a spider’s web”. This also creates an atmosphere of fear and mystery. This is further heightened by the metaphor, “Somewhere out there lay the spider, a deadly predator preparing to strike.” I have used the connotations of spiders being deadly to add danger to my story.

The quote, “a mysterious stranger aboard an elite warship on a secret mission. A mission unheard of by all but the most highly ranked government officials” pragmatically suggests that the main character is some sort of assassin or secret agent. I have mirrored MacLean’s use of dark adjectives to build tension by saying, “ It was the dead of night; witching hour” to almost suggest the supernatural. In addition to this, I have described the main character as a, “lone stranger” to show that he is mysterious. To mirror the style model, I have included very little description of my main character to build mystery, suspense and tension. However, I have included the phrase, “But I had calculated it perfectly: there would be no risk” to show that my character is arrogant but also knows his business. My lexical field used throughout allowed me to mirror Ice Station Zebra, foreshadow the rest of the novel, and set the tone and atmosphere for my writing.