by Lorrie Kim
Originally posted to rec.sport.skating.ice.figure on October 7, 2004.
I got Alina Adams' new skating mystery, "On Thin Ice," from Amazon.com yesterday and it was just the thing to read while holding my napping baby. I had enjoyed and intended to review her previous one from a year ago, "Murder on Ice," but first-trimester malaise scuttled that plan. Both mysteries are chock full of wicked and authentic inside-skating goodies, but this one strikes closer to the heart of things for me. It's not a deep read nor intended to be, I think, yet it taps right into a vein of anxious sadness that is endemic to being too close to the skating world.
Oh yes -- Alina Adams is Alina Sivorinovsky, who sometimes posts on rssif, authors skating articles and books, and worked on skating broadcasts, most notably as an underpaid and overworked ABC peon, er, researcher. So, heroine Bex Levy is also a research peon, and anyone who's heard anything about that job at ABC will find plenty of confirmation in this series. :-) Giving Bex that job is not only a great choice for the author because she's a character who solves mysteries, but also for the reader because it so resembles what it's like to be an online skating fan -- wanting to know personal details about skaters' lives, knowing whom to ask but not knowing what stories to believe, feeling exploitative and guilty for snooping yet simultaneously wondering what responsibility we onlookers have to step in and rescue young skaters who are in jeopardy.
I started dog-earing pages that had funny inside-skating references. Then I stopped because I realized I would be dog-earing every page. Bex runs skating-speak through a mental process she calls the Universal Skating Translator (for example: what does it mean to say that someone can do triple axels and quads, "plus" "can actually skate"?), and remarks upon how much more difficult this is when interviewing skaters who speak other languages (a fictitious Russian translator reports, puzzled, that one program will include sitting "in a sailboat" -- ah-ha! Russian for "spread eagle"! -- as Adams would know, as a native Russian speaker).
Or, in Adams' classic skewering of the phenomenon known as the Skating Mom, one specimen informs Bex that a talented skater will never make it because his father doesn't socialize with the other parents, "and judges take that sort of thing into consideration." When Bex points out that that skater won Sectionals, the mom retorts, "Oh, that. That was simply because he skated better than the other boys." Okay, now you KNOW this author knows the skating world inside out!
I don't read enough mysteries to know how this book rates as a mystery, but I recommend it as a skating-world read. One major character is a tribute to the legendary Mabel Fairbanks; another is a sort of reverse tribute to self-important coaches who ignore or even encourage abuse. When Bex looks into why a promising skater quit the sport, she hears countless subtly contradictory stories -- exactly like how it feels when an off-the-record scandal hits the skating gossip mill. She gets the suggestion it always comes down to in skating: "Look, why don't you just ask her yourself?" And, as in the skating world, she finds that that does not always clear things up. "On Thin Ice" summarizes the whole voyeuristic feeling on p. 161: "There were lives at stake now. Real, actual, people lives. Bex sometimes lost track of that. That was the problem with working in a job where real, actual people's lives were referred to as 'storylines.'"
Ah, fiction. Where, as Jennifer Lyon has aptly demonstrated with "The Strong and the Sequined," people can write the truths we can't discuss publicly when "real, actual people's lives" are involved. And where we fans can read this stuff without feeling guilty.