Night Without End
First edition cover (UK)
|Preceded by||The Last Frontier|
|Followed by||Fear Is the Key|
Night Without End is a thriller novel by Scottish author Alistair MacLean, first published in 1959. The author has been complimented for the excellent depiction of the unforgiving Arctic environment; among others, the Times Literary Supplement gave it strongly favorable notices when it came out.
A BOAC airplane crash-lands on the Greenland ice cap far from its usual route after flying in a seemingly erratic fashion. An International Geophysical Year scientific research team based near the crash site rescues the surviving passengers and takes them to their station. The team finds one passenger and most of the flight crew are dead with one of the pilots having been shot in the back. The station's only means of contact with the outside world, a radio set, is destroyed in a seemingly accidental manner.
With not enough food for everyone and no hope of rescue, the leader of the scientific research team, Mason, decides that they must set out for the nearest settlement, some 300 kilometers away. Meanwhile the pilot who was shot and in a coma is found to have been suffocated. An attempt is also made on Mason's life by getting him to be lost in the arctic night. The scientists' suspicion falls on stewardess but she is soon cleared. Mason orders Joss to stay behind and repair the radio so that a field expedition can be contacted. The dead passenger is determined to be a military courier; soon after that the wreck goes up in flames.
Mason leaves with the group along with the other scientist, Jackstraw, while remaining in touch with their station by means of a short range radio. Meanwhile, the field expedition returns to the station and contacts Mason. They inform him that a massive military mobilization has happened to locate the crashed plane and that it carried something very important. The government, having refused to divulge anything, had tried to contact Mason's station. Finding the station to be non-responding, they have requested the expedition chief, Captain Hillcrest, to investigate.
Mason decides to go on with the journey since any attempt to return will induce the murderers to act. He keeps this new development to himself and Jackstraw. Hillcrest sets out after the group but soon finds that the petrol he picked up at the station has been tampered with. Sugar has been added to the petrol causing the sugar to melt and stick to the engine parts leading him to get bogged down. A solution is found to this when one of the passengers, a chemist, suggests that the petrol be mixed with water and the top layer of the resultant mixture be siphoned off. Almost at the same time, the government also relents and informs Mason through Hillcrest that the military courier carried a top secret missile guidance mechanism disguised as a tape recorder. Mason realizes that one of the passengers picked up such a device at the crash site. This precipitates the murderers into action and they take over the group.
Finding that killing the entire group is not feasible, the criminals initially take the survivors with them, but soon abandon all of them except for the stewardess, for whom Mason has developed a romantic attachment, and the father of a passenger who is a boxer. In the process, one of passengers left behind is killed. The group stumbles on in the arctic blizzard guided by sled dogs. Soon they come across an abandoned sled that contains rocket radiosondes, which they use to guide Hillcrest to them. A chase ensues across the arctic landscape to the shore where a trawler waits for the criminals. But the intervention of navy, on information from Hillcrest, frightens off the trawler. The criminals are surrounded and after a bitter hand-to-hand struggle, the secret device and surviving hostages are rescued.