Dark and Lonely Water by Graeme Reynolds

March 10, 2023

When Samantha Ashlyn is forced to return to her home town to write an article on a series of drownings, she initially resists, finding disturbing similarities to her childhood experiences. However, once she starts looking into the assignment, she finds that things are not what they seem. An ancient evil is rising again, aided by what appears to be a centuries-old conspiracy to keep it hidden. With the help of a disgraced police diver, Sam races to stop the nightmare before more lives are lost. Not realising that her investigation has put herself and those she loves in terrible danger.

I’ve not read any horror at all so far this year so it’s high time I correct that particular oversight. The best way to remedy the situation? The latest novel from Graeme Reynolds, he of werewolf classic High Moor. His latest release, Dark and Lonely Water appears at first glance to be just a creature feature. Good news friends, it is a creature feature. It is most definitely that, but also so much more.  

Right from page one, the novel has a deliciously downbeat quality that I really enjoyed. All the characters are just a little bit broken. The plot reads like the bastard child of a traditional folklore tale and a kitchen sink drama. What lifts this above its contemporaries is the characterisation. The main protagonist, Sam, and her family are just trying to get by. She is about as average as you could get, Sam could be anyone of us. When we first meet her, Sam has more than her fair share of problems. Struggling as a single mum, her kids are always a handful. Sam is also estranged from the rest of her family and to top it all she’s just been handed another small-scale shitty journalistic assignment in a never-ending list of shitty assignments. There is almost a sense of banal horror to Sam’s existence, even before things take a turn for the worse. That sense of isolation and claustrophobia in every action and reaction feels palpable.

Circumstance brings back Sam to where she grew up and it becomes more and more obvious that her family has some sort of direct connection with the drownings. Reynolds perfectly captures that dawning realisation in Sam that something is horribly wrong. This is a story designed to get under your skin, to scratch the mental itch of our worst fears. There is something genuinely primal about darkness and, how it can leave us completely powerless. The elements of folklore peppered throughout the narrative help to play into that. I’ll happily admit after I finished reading Dark and Lonely Water I was straight onto Google in an attempt to learn more about the myths and urban legends Reynolds uses for the genesis of his tale.   

Hmm, how can I best explain the experience of reading Graeme Reynolds’ work? I could tell you he doesn’t do happy endings. No, that doesn’t sound quite right, Let me try again. I think Reynolds understands the fundamental truth that can be found at the core of all the best horror. When terrible things happen, and they most certainly do in this case, we’re all looking for a sense of relief. There is that split second where your brain flips from “oh no, this is a terrible, traumatic event” to “phew, at least they didn’t happen to me”. We all want to be guided right up to the point where the tension becomes unbearable and then, rather than being pushed over the edge, we’re given a moment to catch our breath. It’s not all about blood and guts, though that does have its place, horror should be an emotional rollercoaster. You should feel mentally exhausted by the time you’ve finished it. Graeme Reynolds is one of the writers who gets that. He knows that our imaginations are the most fertile ground when it comes to the fear of the unknown.  

It occurs to me my favourite horror always stems from watching ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances just to see what happens. For the record, I never experimented on insects with a magnifying glass and the sun rays as a small child. Sorry, I just realised that previous sentence made me sound suspiciously like I take some sort of perverse delight seeing people suffer. Not so… ok maybe a bit, but only ever in fiction. 🙂

Dark and Lonely Water is published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available from 10th March 2023. It’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for a story that going to leave a lasting impression.

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the soundtrack to Possum by The Radiophonic Workshop. It’s got a suitably creepy, disquieting vibe that fits the tone of the story perfectly. 

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