by F.G. Cottam
She is a seductive ship: a sailing yacht built for an American playboy. Yet her history is full of fatal accidents and three of Dark Echo's owners met tragic, violent deaths. Now she has been rebuilt, crossing the Atlantic with new owners. Only the truth about Harry Spalding, the man who built her, can save them from the same fate.
I was lured by the creepy appeal of a haunted boat, and on that score, the book delivers; there are plenty of suspenseful, chilling moments, and there is an eerie boat. However, it wasn't quite what I had in mind. For one thing, much less of the action takes place on the Dark Echo than I expected. For another... Well, I can't go into details without potentially spoiling the whole thing. (If you don't mind spoilers, see the next section.)
I'd recommend this novel to fans of ghostly horror who are not squeamish about the occasional depiction of graphic violence or especially bothered by a sprinkling of curses. To clarify, the violence and gore are not lingered over or described in great detail, but they are there. If you're a frequent reader/viewer of horror, you'll probably shrug and wonder what I was talking about, but for someone unused to it, this might induce a squirm or two.
In my opinion, it's not paradigm-shiftingly great, but if you're in the mood for suspenseful horror with the sweeping scale and "epic" feel of a blockbuster film, this is one way to pass some time.
Specifics (with SPOILERS):
-- The story was going along nicely enough to begin with... and then Martin goes on the boat and hears a man's voice saying, "Relax, old chum". Um, okay... By the end of the book, that doesn't seem quite so strange to me, but at the time I read it, it was oddly jarring to have the "ghost" just speaking-- especially to hear him using silly period slang like "old chum". (...Also, if Spalding is capable of speaking out of thin air, across an unknown distance, why all the fuss with the old-fashioned recording device, later in the book? Couldn't he just have spoken to Magnus and Martin in the same way?)
-- Maybe I'm just jealous ;o) but despite hearing over and over again about what a genius researcher Suzanne is, I didn't see her do much that I couldn't have thought of, myself! Her one really clever move was figuring out that the spear tip was hidden under the mountain of beets, and I don't see how that had anything to do with her amazing research abilities... More a matter of intuition.
-- So... Is Suzanne the reincarnation of Jane? I guess it's up to us to decide. Seems a very odd coincidence that someone who looks just like Jane should happen to fall in love with Martin, who just happens to be the son of Magnus, who is predestined to own the Dark Echo... Yeah, none of it's coincidence. It's supposed to be fate, I'm sure.
-- Suzanne knows that she's a dead ringer for Jane-- which is why I find it so irritating/hilarious that she's so obsessed with Jane's looks. She's constantly commenting on how beautiful Jane was. Ugh! Vain, vain woman! "My God, she really does look just like me, Suzanne thought, who knew that her looks had intimidated more men than they had attracted..." "She was a pioneer aviator and drop-dead gorgeous to boot." "She had been a celebrated beauty." "No wonder Vera Chadwick had felt insecure, with friends like Jane and Helen around."
-- The tying in of Michael Collins was not especially interesting to me because... Well, I don't know much (at all) about him or that part of UK/Irish history. No offense intended to anyone, but it's not a topic I care to research simply for the sake of better understanding this book. I vaguely recognized his name as having something to do with Ireland, but that was it. So, suffice it to say that that whole aspect of the book was less than enthralling for this particular reader.
-- It's interesting to note that the author was born in Southport, a city that plays an important role in the book. Since he's English, I'm surprised that he called a sweater a sweater and not a jumper. I thought that was the British word for sweater. (Isn't this a fascinating review?)
-- Is anyone actually named "Magnus" these days? I mean, I'm sure someone is... but it has ghost-story connotations for me. "Count Magnus" and all that.
-- I found it amusing that the chaplain (Derry Conway) was "an old-fashioned follower of what, a generation earlier, had been termed muscular Christianity"-- because I just (for the first time?) encountered that unfamiliar term in something I read last month (Wildfire at Midnight).
-- I'm always amused by a reference to Sweden... Magnus sighs over Martin's car-- a Saab. "What's the prob, Dad?" asks Martin (or something to that effect). "The Saab's fine." To which Magnus replies: "Fine if you're a Swede. Fine if you follow the gospel of self-deprecation. Which the Swedes, as Scandinavians, have no recourse but to do."
-- What was with all the radios playing "When Love Breaks Down"? I assumed it was Spalding's way of taunting/terrorizing Martin and Suzanne, since it was one of Martin's favorite songs (if I remember correctly). Maybe, I thought, it was foreshadowing the breaking of the couple's relationship under the pressures Spalding applied. But then the author (through Suzanne) explains it away as being a song that Spalding heard when he abducted the two teenage fishermen in 1985. ...So, in that case, why is Spalding now making it playing everywhere? Why choose that particular song to torment his new victims?
Either Spalding's been using some creepy magic to spy on them and learn that the song has significance to them or Spalding heard the song at random on the radio in 1985. Either one of those on its own? Ok. Both? Erm...
Also, what has Spalding been doing for all this time? I assumed he could come and go as he pleased-- but apparently he looks pretty bad. (Seriously, dude. Strike a better deal, next time you sell your soul. Right?) I guess that explains why he wouldn't get out much-- and maybe why a song he heard back in 1985 would make such a strong impression, if you accept that he doesn't have access to a radio or TV. :o/
-- At one point, I wondered if Magnus might be the descendent (grandchild?) of one of the members of the Jericho Crew. At least that might explain his bizarre attraction to the Dark Echo. Except that the Jericho Crew were all American, and Magnus' family have probably lived in England forever.
-- The two-man crew on board the Dark Echo seems like it would be foolhardy under any circumstances, even if there were no evil man-demon out to get them. What if one or both of them became ill? Sickness isn't uncommon enough to risk it.
-- When Suzanne finally finds the document that she's been looking for-- Jane's deposition-- does she read it as quickly as possible, desperate for the answers that could well save her boyfriend's life? No, of course not. "She wanted to read what she had discovered in the space and at the time of her choosing. There was urgency there. But she felt she would glean more from the deposition away from where she'd discovered it." What?! Read the darn thing right away, woman!
-- In her diary, Jane refers to Spalding as "my obnoxious American", which seems a strangely understated way to describe a man who attempted to rape her.
-- Suzanne's cold case detective is amazingly helpful. He assembles a team to dig up the yard of Spalding's old rented home on the very day that she brings him her evidence (the aerial photo Jane took). Apparently there's no such thing as red tape and paperwork in Merry Old England! Then, when they discover the spear, he's only too happy to release it into Suzanne's care. "'Won't people see it's missing? 'It won't be missing. I'll replace it myself with one similar from the dead wood in the park over the way.'" Ha! Convenient. Oh, and though he does say he'll need her to give a statement, it can wait for another time. No biggie. Whenever's convenient for you, woman I've never met before today. I trust you implicitly. (Must've been stunned into submission by her incredible personal beauty.)
-- The French farmer compliments "madame" on her courage in having laid the curse. She responds, "Could you not have done it?" (Yes, how about that?) "My father tried. It destroyed him." Okaaaay. What made Suzanne so special, then? Also, the scary dudes who seem to hang out in a van around the French countryside. The ones the farmer shoots dead. Who exactly are they and what have they been doing all this time? I know they're somehow connected to the Satanic cult that Spalding's family was part of, but... Beyond that? Strange that they stay in the background so much, if they are also desirous of keeping the desecrated holy relic in place.
-- The appearance of Vera Chadwick's ghost seems pointless. ...What is the point, really? To further suggest to us that Suzanne is the reincarnated Jane, however much she may deny it?
-- We learn that Magnus has gone into some type of shock-induced coma. Martin says, "I've been feeding him, chewing his food. He throws a lot of it up." Um, gross. Thank you for that little tidbit, Martin! Next time, maybe use food softened with water or something... Broth... Make pre-chewed food your last option, okay?
-- Spalding and Martin engage in fisticuffs. "'You're old,' Martin said. 'It's a young man's game.' He spat a tooth on to the sand." . . . . . . Bwa-ha-ha! Did he also say "patooie" as he did so? Because that wouldn't make it much sillier, in my humble opinion.
-- I must've forgotten something. What happened to Martin's arm on board the boat? By the time they hit land, it's infected, but I can't recall anything that should have reopened his old wound.
-- Speaking of which, the book could've used a little more detail on what happened on the boat after Spalding reveals his plan to Martin and Magnus. However, the biggest mystery of all is why they got on board to begin with! Sure, sure, it's partly explained away by a change in the weather-- familiarity dulling the sense of evil-- etc. But it's odd. If you had the experience Martin described on his first time aboard, would you ever agree to go on a trans-Atlantic voyage aboard that boat? Ultimately, Martin himself tells us that he will go on the voyage-- even against his better judgement-- simply because he loves his father and can't let him go alone. I can't say that Magnus seems worth such self-sacrifice, sadly.
-- So... How much was Magnus supposed to have known about the boat beforehand? During his delirium, he confesses to Martin that he was hoping Spalding would somehow bring about a reunion with his dead wife and daughter. ...But... But... I though Magnus was obsessed with the Dark Echo after seeing her in a book, as a child. I guess he realized after reading the log (which, incidentally, why would Spalding have written what actually happened in the log? just as a sign of his arrogance?) that Spalding had some magical powers. It doesn't make much sense to me, to be honest, but I guess none of it makes real sense, seeing as it's a ghost story, so... ~shrug~