Thursday, 23 April 2009

‘The Shore’ – Robert Dunbar

One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed finding out (while this blog has been running) is that there is a lot more to horror fiction than what’s on the bookshelves in town and most of it seems to be coming from America. Brian Keene, Gary Braunbeck, Nate Kenyon, the list goes on… Every so often a less than satisfactory read bucks the trend but I find myself really enjoying horror these days and get excited whenever a new book comes through the door.
The plan for today was to have read and reviewed Natasha Mostert’s ‘Keeper of Light and Dust’ but I couldn’t sleep last night and Robert Dunbar’s ‘The Shore’ was close to hand. Before I knew it, the reason that I couldn’t sleep was because I was too busy reading…

There’s a storm approaching the New Jersey town of Edgeharbor but the prospect of pounding waves and bitter winds isn’t what’s scaring the residents. Something is hunting in Edgeharbor and the only signs of its passing are it’s bloody footprints and the mangled corpses that it leaves behind. As the storm grows closer, a mysterious stranger and a young policewoman are the only hope that the town has of survival…

‘The Shore’ is a book that has a lot to say and only three hundred and ten pages in which to say it all. It’s very much a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affair and this can be very confusing at times. For a book that places such emphasis on it’s setting (which can work very well, more on that in a bit), Dunbar throws this out of balance by letting the characters drive the story and having the background scenery rush to catch up. There’s a lot of stuff going on inside people’s heads and it’s not always made clear that they’re on the move while this is happening… This caught me out more than once and having to go back and re-read passages interrupted the flow of the book.

I stuck with it though. In fact I did more than just stick with it, I couldn’t put the book down! ‘The Shore’ is a genuinely creepy read that had me constantly on edge and eager to find out how everything tied together at the end.

As I briefly mentioned, Dunbar places great emphasis on a brooding Edgeharbor that is practically deserted and soon to feel the full force of a storm of almost biblical proportions. This treatment really gives the novel a shot of energy in all the right places, whether it’s the creeping fear found in a deserted house or the full on rush of adrenaline the characters (and certainly this reader!) get when the storm finally breaks.

The plot itself is a good one, with a mystery to be solved and answers that provoke further questions. Dunbar is a master of misdirection and the way that the book ends really caught me out (more than once…)
Before you get to that point however, you’re in for a roller coaster ride where everyone is both the hunter and the hunted. With five central characters, anything could be possible and that’s where the misdirection comes in… Dunbar is also very adept at spinning the tension out in certain passages, making for moments where you literally cannot put the book down!
The characters themselves are well drawn with a measure of sympathy given to each of them that makes the ensuing events all the more horrifying, especially when you are finally given the full story...

If ‘The Shore’ had a better balance between setting and characters it would have been an almost perfect read as far as I was concerned. As it is, ‘The Shore’ is still worth your time if you’re after a book that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Keep an eye open for it’s release in July.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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