Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on A Dark and Twisted Tide.
Deptford Creek—a muddy, bloated tributary just off the Thames River—is a perfect location for a disturbing story that has Marine Unit Constable Lacey Flint and her boss, DI Dana Tulloch, looking for a serial killer who is murdering unsuspecting women. Unfolding in blunt, short chapters, Bolton tells her story from the perspectives of both Lacey and Dana and also two immigrant girls, who appear to be at first unassociated with the case until a surprise twist allows Dana and Lacey to place together the links.
Because so much of the story takes place on the Thames Estuary, water is an important symbol in the novel, influencing Lacey and the River Police, who constantly sweep the area looking for smugglers. The novel is compelling for the turmoil it creates and the grisly murders that appear upon its pages. The story opens with Lacey swimming in the Thames Estuary as often as the tide and conditions allow. For nearly two months, she’s been living in relative isolation on her new home, a vintage houseboat. Her only neighbors are Ray and his wife, Eileen. Ray used to work for the Thames Marine Unit years ago and is quick to warn Lacey that the river is “greedy” and that people “can get distracted by it and also a bit careless.”
There’s a swirling mass of greens and browns and light and shadow amidst the utter blackness that even a torch’s beam can’t penetrate. The river splashes and gurgles and swishes. Then Lacey finds her body: a submerged corpse, gruesomely murdered in a manner that echoes the very worst of London’s crimes. It’s eyeless sockets seem to stare out directly at Lacey, and strips of fabric are wrapped tight around its torso as it drifts in a heap beneath Old Kings Wharf.
This puts attention on Dana and the Marine Crime Unit, who begin to discover even more nightmarish, submerged corpses. Lacey is quick to re-immerse herself in the Thames and this grotesque world of the killer who begins to target her by leaving a series of clues that serve to make her nervous and suspicious that the murderer is silently stalking her. As Lacey pines for her lover, Mark Joesbury, there’s a sense she’s cutting herself off from the world. Dark shapes and shadows swirl around Lacey’s canoe, pushing her back as she fights for progress. The victims, meanwhile, are noticeably “wrapped up like a birthday present.” Dana is positive that they are illegal immigrants who were exploited before they were brutally murdered.
As the body count piles up, Lacey and Dana do what they do best: follow their instincts, despite the problems caused by their superiors. The story swings back and forth between the various lines of investigation and the women’s personal struggles: from Dana’s need to have a child with her partner, Helen, to Lacey, who literally falls into Mark’s arms when, on one dark night, he miraculously appears on her houseboat.
Although the plot sometimes skewers credibility, Bolton portrays her characters as crevassed and bent as the muddy banks of the Thames, a river that is almost alive and vividly a thing of pressure. When the action takes an even more dramatic turn, the machinations of a kindly physician and his herbalist sister quickly transform the story into something much darker. From a heat-sodden July to eighteen weeks earlier, when the voice of Nadia echoes into the present, to the myths of the Thames mermaid who purportedly watches the houseboats in the dark of night, Bolton’s novel plunges us into a sinister urban wilderness. The river is massive, “brown as old blood and unthinkably deep,” a dark place of respite for Nadia as her dreams turn into nightmares and the weed and the mud clings to her before pulling her down.
In a plot that mostly zings along, Lacey glides through twilight-colored subterranean London, from the tributaries of Deptford Creek to the industrial docks where giant warehouses tower over commercial wharves, to the ramshackle houseboat community that Lacey calls her home. Attempting to balance the chaos in their personal lives with the escalation of events, Lacey and Dana never stop their hunt for a relentless killer. It is Lacey who ultimately succeeds, even as her commitment to finding justice for the victims drives her straight into the arms of danger.