I’m a confirmed fan of Chris Ewan’s crime writing to date and Dark Tides does not disappoint! Beginning with one of the creepiest opening chapters it has ever been my pleasure to read- lone female Claire Cooper- a scary deserted cottage- Halloween 2014 (or Hop-tu-naa as it is dubbed on the Isle of Man) and the scene is set for a slowly escalating tension filled read. Cleverly, throughout the course of book Ewan takes us through a succession of Halloween nights, flipping backwards and forwards between timelines. Consequently, we trace the events in Claire’s life from her younger years, and the traumatic events that have followed her over each Halloween, beginning with the unsolved disappearance of her mother, possibly at the hands of her sinister employer Edward Caine, who I kept picturing as Mr Burns from The Simpsons (insert Homer Simpson shudder here) and his equally weird son Morgan. Following the disappearance of her mother on that fateful Halloween night, Claire grows up slightly introverted until her acceptance by the ‘cool’ gang comprising of Rachel, Callum, David, Mark and Scott, whose increasingly dangerous Hop-tu-naa stunts over the years prove to be their undoing. Particularly when in a dangerous prank they turn their attentions on Edward Caine to avenge Claire’s mother’s disappearance, which ends in extreme violence and find themselves in a killer’s sights…
Thanks to the skilful manipulation and presentation of each timeline, culminating in the present day with Claire now employed as a police officer, Ewan never loses the reader’s concentration. So many authors fall at the first hurdle with time shifts, either confusing when the action is taking place, or not placing enough points of interest in each timeline to hold the reader’s interest. I positively relished entering each different Halloween so see who would perish next, and loved the disparate and, at times, wonderfully gruesome ways in which Claire’s cohorts are despatched to the other side. Equally, the identity of the avenging angel is well-concealed and a few of my theories fell by the wayside as the book progressed, as Ewan twists the plot into another direction and chain of guilt.
Another real strength of the book is the control of the characterisation, and I liked the way that the gradual ageing of the characters was completely authentic as they progressed from impulsive teenagers to twenty-somethings, with the inherent responsibilities or foolhardy actions that many of us experience in our journey from teenage years to adulthood. Claire is wonderfully understated as a central character but her incredible ordinariness is a continual pull for our emotional engagement with her right the way through the book. You find yourself genuinely rooting for her as she balances the demands of her professional life with the haunting demons of her past. As her circle of friends decreases, these vying tensions in her life come to the fore, ratcheting up our fears on her behalf, while she attempts to identify the killer.
I must confess that my only knowledge of the Isle of Man has pretty much been accrued from watching coverage of the TT Race and reading Ewan’s previous books, and to be honest I love the way that Ewan employs his setting as an additional creepy character in the book. The locations of each Halloween prank are beautifully sinister and darkly realised, and I loved the sense of menace that he attributes to the more desolate areas of the island, in much the same way as Peter May’s atmospheric rendition of the Hebrides. Top tip. Don’t go and live on an island. It’s dangerous. (Well, if crime writers are to be believed!)
So I’m pleased to report that Ewan has come up trumps again following the equally compelling Safe House and Dead Line. Dark Tides is tense, engaging, spooky and at times purely terrifying. A nice little chiller- thriller for the long winter nights. Recommended.
(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)