Dark Tides
Chris Ewan
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Buy *Dark Tides* by Chris Ewanonline

Dark Tides
Chris Ewan
Minotaur Books
448 pages
December 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In 2001 on the remote Isle of Man, Claire Cooper, craving someone she can talk to and confide in, is duped by her new school friend Rachel meet to few local boys--Mark, David, and Callum--to celebrate Hop-tu-naa, a local festivity known as Halloween. Claire considers herself the lonely outcast and has only the vaguest inkling of what she’s letting herself for when she travels in David’s Ford Fiesta to an isolated part of the Island where they all play a game with ghostly masks on. In this forgotten place, in the dusk and the wind and the rain, Claire finds herself anxious in an environment where the sea rages wild and the blue-black waters roil and undulate.

Claire’s mother, who disappeared when Claire was eight years old, tells her that Hop-tu-naa isn’t about angels, but about ghosts and monsters and witches and wizards. She was close to her mother, this beautiful woman who has an energy about her and an aura that could dazzle even the darkest moon. Her disappearance those years ago remain a mystery, hijacking Claire’s youth so that she’s become invisible to her father. The hidden truth that Claire rarely acknowledges is the secret she has kept even from herself: that a tiny part of her, buried very deep, still maintains the last faint hope that her mother is alive.

At the time, authorities assumed Claire’s mother had abandoned the family. Claire is certain that her disappearance was somehow linked to wealthy Edward Caine. For years, Claire has sensed that something unsightly is concealed behind the Caine mansion’s double front doors. Her mother worked as Edward Caine’s personal assistant and was last seen one Hop-tu-naa heading back to do more work for him. For Claire, the mansion is a vast, daunting place of secrets and lies, where the walls seem alive “in some alien way” and the windows stare out like “dark unblinking eyes.” Claire remembers that night years ago when she first saw Edward: the sneer on his lips, the dark whorls of his flared nostrils, and his “sickly gimlet eyes, so swollen obscene triumphant.”

In a plot as grim and unforgiving as the darkest classic fairy tales, Ewan links Claire’s catastrophic, childhood mistake--one that ends up costing her--to her night out with Rachel, David, Mark and Callum, where someone’s finger first touches her cheek then closes on her breast. Amid the vodka, the darkness, and her own traumatic associations with Hop-tu-naa, Claire is convinced that someone has sneaked up on her in the pitch-black in the middle of the wilds and touched her without any explanation.

Ewan’s narrative is well-traveled. The opening chapters dash in actuality and flashback between Claire’s childhood and her adult life where, wracked with guilt, she becomes a police officer. The plot is unique in its portrayal of an unfolding nightmare that centers on a dare from Mark and David to use the ancient symbol of a footprint and its prediction that someone will die. Upon carrying out their plan to taunt Edward Caine into a confession, the ensuing chaos set off a series of events that culminate with a serial killer’s desire for revenge. From Edward’s creepy son Morgan--stunted since childhood--to Claire’s fear of her father and her belief that he was somehow responsible for whatever happened to her mother, Claire learns to trust no one, except perhaps Rachel and David.

Wracked with bitterness and cast adrift by the tragedy that has befallen her family, Claire’s history catches up to her as a twisted mind from the past shatters her present. Barely speaking after that terrible night when Mark unleashed his anger at Edward, the group walk away from one another, unable to discuss what they have done and what made Mark lash out in the way he did. All the while, Claire remains haunted by Edward Caine’s vengeful spite. There are so many dark things that Claire could never begin to explain--mysteries like the creepy, unknowable touch she experienced that October night among the warped pines. Building the tension with a prose style that is furious and as fast as the constant rains that sweep across the Isle, Ewan unfolds a series of brutal murders,:retribution for Claire’s mistake, a girl who has been barely able to cope with the implications of what she’s done.

As rain-drenched and fogbound as the windswept hills that cover the Isle of Man, Ewan’s characters gradually disclose their shattered dreams. The author is good at portraying a small, suspicious community living on the edge of the Irish Sea where the daylight is as oppressive and depressing as the constant dark. Although I thought the narrative was a bit overlong, Dark Tides’ brooding nature perfectly matches the setting and the palpable feeling of isolation that haunts Claire, a girl perpetually taunted by sinister, dark tokens of chance and coincidence.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2016

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