Ice Station Zebra leads us, through the eyes of Dr. Carpenter, a British doctor who, through dubious bona fides gains access to a United States submarine on a rescue mission in the Arctic North; to rescue survivors, if any, from drift ice station Zebra.
The story itself is an incredible one, and as it leads you through the plot of first getting Dr. Carpenter on board the submarine (the Americans are very security minded), to sailing through the ice, to the difficulties of rising above the ice to begin searching for the ice station, to the terrors of hiking in the Arctic with a blinding storm around you, you become so focused on each moment and struggle, you cease to even contemplate the mystery, at least for awhile.
The fact that Dr. Carpenter, the focus of the first person narrative, knows more than he is letting on is always evident, but not too distracting. It keeps you reading and keeps you anxious to see if anyone else is going to figure out what's going on.
Because much of the action takes places on a submarine, and specifically a nuclear submarine, MacLean takes pains to be descriptive. I personally appreciated it. The quality of the prose is good, and the dialogue clever. My only issue was that the Americans sound just as British as Dr. Carpenter. I just can't picture a 1950s/1960 member of the United States Navy saying things like 'The counsel for the prosecution will kindly pack it in', or 'Doctor, you ill-mannered lout." Nevertheless, these shortcomings are overlooked once the story gets going.
The general sense of urgency and danger picks up heavily once on the ice, and the climax and ending of the story is, to me, completely unexpected - yet reasonable too, though some elements get thrown in toward the end that are a bit out of left field.
A good read, and one which I probably read too much.