By: Chris Howard
Published in 2013 by Masque Books (an imprint of Prime books)
This entertaining novel starts out as an intriguing maritime thriller. A ship, the Serina Beliz, sinks barely twenty miles from Cuba without a trace. The crew of the salvage ship Marcene, led by Captain Jay Wilraven, are hired by a mysterious backer to locate the wreck and bring it to the surface. What seems at first to be a simple job soon turns out to be far from it as the crew encounter their employer’s extreme paranoia and are very quickly the prisoners of the security team foisted on them ‘for their protection’. It is clear that there is more to the wreck than first appears and the crew begin to take steps to try to find out more, working to undermine the brutal regime of the security team without being caught. This part of the novel – involving as it does shipwrecks, mercenaries, floating cities and Cuban pirates – is firmly entrenched in the realms of a modern day thriller, at least initially. You can make comparisons here between the travails of Captain Wilraven and other maritime protagonists such as the recent Captain Phillips as played by Tom Hanks. The drama here is tense and relatively contemporary, only veering off into fantastic and futuristic areas very late in the narrative.
Meanwhile, interspersed among these scenes of hardship and violence, more or less chapter for chapter, is another tale. This involves a scientist by the name of Jon Andreden who works for a company researching submersibles with artificial intelligence. It is in this story that a vague element of science fiction creeps into the plot as the technology evidenced by Andreden and his company is slightly ahead of what is possible in the modern day. Andreden encounters a woman who refers to herself as ‘merely a Toymaker’ and is intrigued by the wonderful technology she shows to him, which is even further away from what is possible in the real world. She is searching for a missing sister and believes that Andreden can help her. This story takes us through several more thriller style episodes with a definite X-Files twist – involving black ops teams and secret government conspiracies – before delving into deeper science fiction and finally out the other side into the realms of myth, but I won’t tell you which myth as that might be considered a spoiler.
Initially it seems as if the stories of Wilraven and Andreden are completely unconnected. Indeed, I did wonder at first if there hadn’t been some mix up in the ebook formatting that led to two entirely different novels being mixed together. However, I do not think it creates too much of a spoiler to tell you that there is a link and that this becomes apparent as the story progresses and the two do dovetail nicely into a complete tale as Anreden’s missing persons search brings him closer to the fate of the Serina Beliz and the predicament of the crew of the Marcene.
In all this is a finely crafted novel. Both storylines are well written and researched, especially the scenes involving Captain Wilraven and his crew which show a good knowledge (and possibly personal experience) of the life of a salvage crew. A lot of detail is included in all chapters and the author’s interest in the sea is evident. More importantly, this does not devolve into tedious info dumps. The advanced tech used in the Andreden chapters is also very well portrayed and involves some good ideas, with the AI submersible even emerging as a sympathetic character. The human characters are equally well realised, at least the main ones are. If there is one complaint about the characters it is that of the mercenary squad who serve as the main antagonists for one storyline, only two of them really get given any particular attention in terms of depth of character. The rest are kept as two dimensional ciphers. This is a minor criticism, however, and does not detract from the storyline.
I would definitely recommend this novel to those who like mysteries or thrillers, especially those with a marine theme.