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The Deep


The Deep

I always have had a soft spot for a good horror or supernatural tale. I also love anything about seafaring or exploring the vast unchartered seas we share on this planet. So when I heard that Alma Katsu --- whose previous book, THE HUNGER, was up for multiple awards and was dubbed one of the scariest novels ever written --- was penning a supernatural tale featuring the Titanic, I was fully on board.

When you are dealing with historical fiction, it is a good idea to do some research before diving in. THE DEEP features two ill-fated vessels: the Titanic and the Britannic. We all know the Titanic, and its popularity has had a hold on generations of people. The so-called “indestructible” vessel was sunk by an iceberg in the arctic chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912. The lesser-known Britannic, made by the same shipbuilders who created the Titanic, was brought down by a combination of German missiles and underwater mines on November 21, 1916. Katsu learned that a book had been written by Violet Jessop, who survived both catastrophes --- and her fictional mind started turning.

"What I love most about THE DEEP is Katsu's intricate storytelling. Her characters are all extremely fleshed out and human, their dialogue and reactions are very real, and not everyone turns out to be who or what they seem."

THE DEEP takes us back and forth between these two ocean voyages. One of the key characters and primary narrators of the book is Irish-born Annie Hebley, who grew up in a home that often shared folklore and fairy tales featuring witches, selkies and a demonic female spirit known as the dubheasa (the Irish pronunciation is deh vah sah). The dubheasa will play a major role in both sea journeys, but I will leave it up to you to figure out where and how the legendary creature makes its appearance.

For reasons unknown, Annie is removed from her family and has no contact with them. She is employed on the Titanic as a stewardess, in more of a “guest relations” type of role, and finds herself helping the infant daughter of a young couple, Mark and Caroline Fletcher. She immediately has a connection with them, particularly Mark, but does not know why. I love that the baby girl's name is Ondine, which in Gaelic translates to “from the sea.” I know this not only because of my Irish heritage, but as a result of including the Colin Farrell movie Ondine in my annual Irish film festival around St. Patrick's Day.

One of the first-class suite cabins holds many wealthy and well-known figures, such as John Jacob Astor, Madeleine Astor and Benjamin Guggenheim. They are visited by a well-known medium, William Stead, who leads a small group in a séance. As expected in a novel, there are knockings, a cold breeze or two, and a frenzied state of panic. Unfortunately, just as things start getting good with what appears to be a raised spirit, their eerie session is interrupted by Annie, who is asking for the Astors and Guggenheims to come with her at once. She leads the panicked group to the Astors’ room to reveal a young and lifeless boy, who is confirmed dead. He was their houseboy, and there are no clues as to how or why he died.

Stead is now positive that a demon is lurking on board, and is responsible for several other accidents and mishaps that already have occurred on the Titanic --- and, of course, will be to blame for the forthcoming tragedy that will end the lives of most on the ship.

Four years later, Annie is a nurse on the Britannic, which is being used as a floating hospital treating those injured during World War I. As the vessel is getting ready to shove off, Annie wonders why it stops to let on a caravan of men with tents and stretchers. She doubts that the number of casualties she will be dealing with will be massive. Imagine her surprise when one of the injured soldiers is Mark, who she had not realized survived the Titanic sinking. Due to his injuries, initially Mark does not recognize Annie. Let's just say that their relationship will dredge up many memories --- both good and bad --- that may very well foretell the tragic ending that this new ship is headed toward.

What I love most about THE DEEP is Katsu's intricate storytelling. Her characters are all extremely fleshed out and human, their dialogue and reactions are very real, and not everyone turns out to be who or what they seem. Everything is tinged with a suggestion of the supernatural, which keeps the tension at a high level. I see more awards coming for Katsu and highly recommend this book for those who enjoy an intelligent story dashed with a sprinkle of the unexpected.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 27, 2020

The Deep
by Alma Katsu