Book review: Dark Tides by Chris Ewan

The ancient folklore of the Isle of Man provides the atmospheric backdrop to a stunning new thriller from an author who is fast becoming a master of his game.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 13th November 2014, 9:00 am
Dark Tides by Chris Ewan
Dark Tides by Chris Ewan

A Somerset man who now lives and writes at his home on the windswept Irish Sea island, Chris Ewan is well known for his popular Good Thief’s Guide series of mysteries about a globetrotting thief-for-hire but now he is making his mark with some riveting standalone thrillers including Safe House and Dead Line.

Set against the wild beaches and rugged headlands of the Isle of Man’s coastal waters, Dark Tides is an addictive page turner, a menacing story which unfolds in a cascade of rich, flowing prose, encompasses a powerful wave of chilling, spine-tingling events and explodes into a heart-pounding climax.

Harnessing the legendary tales of Hop-tu-naa, the Manx Halloween, the time of year when ‘the veil between our world and the spirit world is said to be tissue thin,’ Ewan captures the stultifying claustrophobia of an insular community and a woman caught up in a series of suspicious deaths.

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When Claire Cooper was just eight years old her beloved mother mysteriously vanished on Hop-tu-naa. Six years later, Claire is still struggling to come to terms with the anguish of that night, her life ‘for ever warped and branded’ and her father a ghost trapped in his pain and memories.

When she is befriended by a group of five local teenagers who mark every Hop-tu-naa by performing dares, she joins them as a way to crush her lingering fear of Halloween and face the demons of the past.

But Claire’s arrival starts to alter the group’s dynamic until one year an audacious and dangerous dare goes terribly wrong, changing all their futures and tearing the friends apart.

A few years later, one of the group is killed on Hop-tu-naa in an apparent accident but Claire, now a police officer, has her doubts. Is a single footprint found near the body a deliberate taunt?

As more of the old Hop-tu-naa gang die, Claire becomes convinced that somebody is seeking vengeance. But who and which of the friends might be next? If she’s to stop a killer and unlock the dark secrets of her past, Claire must confront her deepest fears before it’s too late.

There are shades of The Wicker Man in this truly terrifying thriller which uses a clever, Halloween timeline and the Isle of Man’s most isolated corners to create a horror story steeped in mystery and malevolence.

Manx folklore – the Moddey Dhoo phantom black dog which haunts the battlements of Peel Castle and the vicious Little People who threaten those who cross the Fairy Bridge – lend a tantalising air of menace amidst the mist and murk of the island’s October nights.

Friendship, family bonds, hidden secrets and the need for revenge all play their part in a powerful novel outstanding for its painstaking research, tangible sense of place, nail-biting suspense and sinister use of mythology.

But be warned… you may need to read Dark Tides in one sitting.

(Faber, hardback, £14.99)