The Last Night at Tremore Beach
Mikel Santiago
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Buy *The Last Night at Tremore Beach* by Mikel Santiagoonline

The Last Night at Tremore Beach
Mikel Santiago
Atria Books
320 pages
February 2017
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Santiago’s out-of-the-ordinary thriller melds the paranormal with a blood-ridden drama that circles around a shadowy syndicate whose motivations are never made quite clear. The desolate, eerily beautiful windswept Irish Coast, a lonely and isolated setting, hooks us from the outset. The reader is similarly seduced by the quaint village of Clenhburran, as well as the implied monastic life of Pete Harper, a successful TV and film composer with a growing reputation as an eccentric and a wildcard.

The story is narrated from the point of view of Pete, after he has moved into a spacious beach house on an isolated hill, not far from picaresque Clenhburran. The possibility of refueling his creative juices is high on Pete’s agenda as he attempts to move beyond the nasty divorce from his ex-wife, Clem, a personal disaster that has contributed to his untimely exile. Pete struggles with finishing a movie soundtrack while battling a manic-depressive spiral in which mowing the lawn and undertaking lonely walks along the beach are the only ways he can ambush the seductive pull of his negative thoughts.

Pete is troubled by a voice at the back of his mind, a “phantom hiding behind his ears,” which tells him not to leave the house, “not tonight.” After embarking on a frustrating bout of agonized trial and error, Pete decides to ignore the voice and attend Marie and Leo Kogan’s dinner party. A sophisticated and well-traveled couple, Marie and Dave live about a mile away. Pete attempts to settle into an evening, but as he makes his way home, he doesn’t anticipate the force of the storm and a monstrous thunderhead that gathers and cracks overhead.

A tragic accident leaves Pete unconscious. On the way to hospital, he can remember little of the incident, other than trying to take evasive action from crashing into a tree branch. Four days after the incident--and with a pounding headache and a nauseating dizziness--Pete thinks back to the whirlwind of blue light and the lightning strike that seemed to paralyze him. Aside from the kindly ministrations of his girlfriend, Judie, who runs the backpacking hostel in town, Pete finds himself mostly alone, back at his boathouse, imagining a room bathed in shadow, a knock on the door, and Marie standing frozen and panicked at the entrance.

Attempting to tell Leo and Marie about his nightmares, Pete talks of Marie’s eerily disturbing presence, “like a phantom,” of Leo covered in blood, and the voice that urged him not to leave the house the night of the storm. The constant throbbing headaches and the visions, the violent storm at the top of Bill’s Peak and the actual bolt of lightning that struck him (“its trail frozen in midair”)--Pete is positive all of these elements are somehow connected. At one stage, Dave attempts to find solace with his two children, Beatrice and Jip, who fly in from Amsterdam. He also visits his father in Dublin, reluctantly confessing to him about the accident and the unexplained dreams that plague him.

The result is an eerie, atmospheric tale written for the Stephen King crowd, in which Pete finds himself hijacked by the escalating craziness of those who would reach across the ocean intent on seeking revenge. For most of the novel, Pete is under siege, sucked into the intricate web of Marie and Leo’s secrets. With each passing evening, the Kogans' contradictions grow more mysterious. As Dave attempts to solve the mystery behind Marie’s painting, a tailgating van, and four nefarious intruders determined to do him harm, the pain in Pete’s head grows, blossoming like a flower, steadily ticking away “like a tightly wound watch.”

Although the narrative is riddled with your typical horror story clichés, Dave’s kindly heart and gallant personality transcend the novel’s limitations. Adding to this vivid sense of time and place is the formidable Irish coast, a landscape of sea and land, of haunted and uncanny places where, on one final night on Tremore Beach, the strange pieces of the puzzle that make up Dave’s ghostly apparitions begin to fall violently into place.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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