Lawrence Millman’s non-fiction book, At the End of the World: A True Story of Murder in the Arctic, is the latest work from the intrepid traveler. Millman, an award-winning adventure writer, markets his book as a trip north to the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay to investigate a series of murders in the early 1940s.
The book touches upon a religious frenzy that led several Inuit on the Belcher Islands to murder nine others. A meteor shower in 1941 resulted in some of the Inuit in the area to fear that the world was ending. The local shaman and one of the best hunters in the tribe then stylized themselves as deities, killing anyone they denounced as Satanic. The case eventually resulted in a massive investigation and trial.
Throughout the book, Millman juxtaposes the historical events of the murder with his own interactions with the Inuit who now live on the Belcher Islands. He writes with strong prose, but the book comes across as more of a social commentary then an actual true crime or investigative novel.
Millman is clearly an intelligent man who has many astute insights about the dangers of modern technology, and backs up some of his points with interesting stories about technology and culture. He does an excellent job getting into the minds of the Inuit he does speak with, and the book is filled with some interesting perspectives from many people.
However, his musings somewhat overwhelm the work and take away from the story of the murders.
When he does talk about the historical events themselves, he tries to make too many far-flung connections between them and our modern infatuation in technology. It makes it read more like a smattering of notes and thoughts which have been published.
The actual murders themselves are a relatively small part of the book. The case has been well-publicized, but might be somewhat unknown outside of Canada, and additional details about the case only came into the public eye a couple of years ago. I would have liked to see Millman use his knowledge of the Arctic and his time with the Inuit to make the book more of an authoritative history of the Belcher Island murders.
This book is great if you want some incisive commentary on the perils of modern technology and the threat of environmental degradation, but misses the mark a bit if you’re looking for some sort of character study about the murders themselves. Still, Milliman is a fine writer and this book is an interesting narrative if you’re interested in the Inuit or life up in the Arctic.
Kevin is a native Texan who is currently on the East coast. He’s spent time living and working in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and in Africa, and enjoys playing a couple of musical instruments.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Thomas Dunne Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.