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Book: “Dead Water” by C.A. Fletcher
Publishing Info: Redhook, July 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: There’s something in the water… On the edge of the Northern Atlantic lies a remote island. The islanders are an outwardly harmonious community—but all have their own secrets, some much darker than others. And when a strange disorder begins to infect them all, those secrets come to light. Ferry service fails and contact with the mainland is lost. Rumors begin to swirl as a temporary inconvenience grows into nightmarish ordeal. The fabric of the once tight-knit island is unnervingly torn apart—and whatever the cause, the question soon stops being how or why it happened, but who, if anyone, will survive.
Review: I’m pretty much treading on Kate’s toes at this point, since this book clearly fits within the horror genre. But to be fair to myself, it’s from an author I’ve read and enjoyed in the past (seriously, “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” is fantastic!), so I was just following my own reading track record to read this latest release. It’s also worth noting that this is the second time in about a month where I’ve read a horror book that not only features zombie rabbits but has them on the cover. Trends are weird, man. Anyways, on to the review!
On a small island, accessible only by ferry once a day, there is no escaping one another. For better or worse, everyone knows everyone, and secrets and gossip have a way of coming to the surface. But when a strange malady begins affecting the people of the island, the true inescapabilty of the place hits home. Without knowing the cause of the curse, an ancient thing half lost to memory, who will survive the night of horror ahead?
I’m going to go out on a limb right now and guess that this book will be a bit polarizing to readers. And I think that all comes down to the pacing and stylistic decisions the author makes early in the book. It’s a slow (sloooooow) start to the story, and we are introduced to a large number of POVs in quick succession. For me, because I enjoyed Fletcher’s first book so much and knew that that one had a large payoff at the end for the groundwork laid early on, I had enough faith that this was all going to go somewhere eventually to happily read on. But I imagine for some readers it may be feel like quite a slog. The horror/fantastical aspects of the story really don’t start showing up until almost halfway through the story.
I think this slow build and the sheer number of characters actually worked really well in the end, if you can get there. For one thing, by having this number of characters, you really get a sense for the feeling of the island, where everyone knows everyone, and their lives weave in and out of one another’s in interesting ways. It also created a situation that gives the reader an increased investment in the outcome of the horror that begins to unfold. These are people with hopes, dreams, flaws, and strengths, not simply NPCs dropping like flies with no thought in the world. It was also clever that your opinions of some of the characters changed as the story continued, so those who you thought were easy-fodder-baddies become more interesting in their own right.
There was also an interesting history and myth that slowly unfolds between chapters of the book. Not only did I find this smaller story interesting in its own right, but there was a surprising twist that came into play in the last fourth of the book that really pulled this story into the present situation in a unique way.
There was also a great exploration of grief and family that winds its way throughout the story. We see how much family is a choice that one makes, regardless of blood connections. That families can support each other but also uniquely break one another. One of the main (ish) characters is also struggling with the recent loss of a spouse, and we see her having to confront some of the darker sides of grief. There’s also an interesting touch on faith and belief that comes into play as the story unspools.
In the end, I think the payoff of the last half of the book is well worth the slow start of the story. By the time the horror starts to tack up, you really care about the characters who are in the path of this violence. And woven throughout is a heart-warming story of coming to understand both the tragic but also the bright sides of love and family. If you enjoy slower, immersive reads with a nice touch of horror and fantasy, than this is definitely one to check out!
Rating 8: A slow start ultimately pays off in a creeping, dread-filled story that also explores beautiful themes of family and the power of love.
“Dead Water” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet but it should be on Aquatic Horror Books.