Close Reach by Jonathan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is yet another story that confirms my firm belief that nothing good ever happens on a boat. The movies and TV alone provide an endless list of real and fictional disasters like Jaws, The Poseidon Adventure, Titanic, A Perfect Storm, All Is Lost, Dead Calm, Captain Phillips, that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where the gang buys a boat and Dennis makes a chilling explanation of the ‘implications’ when sailing with a lady, that other episode of Sunny when the gang goes on a cruise and everything goes horribly wrong.... Damn. I didn’t realize Sunny had two episodes about boats…Maybe three if you count the time that Frank hijacks the tourist boat to get to the movies…
Where was I? Oh, yeah. Boats. You can keep ‘em.
But some people actually are foolish enough to leave land. Like Kelly and Dean, a couple who have spent a year going around the world on their sailboat Freefall in an effort to save their marriage. Their relationship is on the mend as they’re cruising near Antarctica when they hear a frantic radio call from someone in trouble, and the signal is quickly jammed. They try to find the source of the transmission but have no luck. As they head to South America the radar tells them that a ship is following them, and it’s getting closer.
I’ve become a big fan of Jonathan Moore lately thanks to the excellent trilogy he wrote in which each book had its own particular style. The Poison Artist was moody psychological suspense, The Dark Room had a whodunit mystery vibe, and The Night Market was a near-future sci-fi conspiracy thriller. In the tight 200 pages of Close Reach Moore shows that he can do yet another genre that is equal parts survival-at-sea and horror.
It’s a terrifying story that works in large part due to the detail work Moore put in to make even a landlubber like me understand how the boat functions and what being on your own in a remote part of the ocean is really like. The tension ramps up to nail biting levels as Kelly and Dean try to fight their way through an on-coming storm while the mysterious boat gains on them.
I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns of the story, but suffice it say that when the confrontation comes a whole ugly level of hell is unleashed. Fair warning that this is a dark and brutal story that has blunt and graphic descriptions of all kinds of harm that people can inflict on one another. It made me wince and squirm at several points, but Moore’s skill and pacing keep it from sinking down to the level of torture porn.
The frank nature of the violence isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you’re up for it then you’ll get a fantastically gruesome tale that’ll make you practically taste the salt of the cold ocean spraying across your face.
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