Eight men wake up alone in a life raft, in the middle of the ocean, with no idea how they got there. That’s the premise in Carole Johnstone’s thought-provoking debut novella, Frenzy.
The story is true horror, but anyone looking at the cover and expecting to see the thrust of the story being the characters bloodied and devoured by sharks and other marine nasties is going to be disappointed. Or perhaps pleased, because although big fish add to the effect, this story takes you into the true fears lurking in the recesses of the characters. At one stage I was really inside the mind of the hero, Pete, as he looks down into an almost bottomless depth of water beneath him. I could feel his frustration, surrounded by sea, but unable to drink. In the almost exquisite characterisation, as we see what makes each of the characters tick, and the personal demons driving them.
Johnstone has put together a mishmash of people, cleverly using characters who play off each other to increase the tension. Some get on, some don’t, but all serve their purpose. The story pulls no punches in playing on the character’s relationships. It is very raw and maybe near to the knuckle in places, a feeling helped by the stark writing style and the decent pacing. It had me questioning myself, asking, ‘would I behave like that?’ given the stress of the situation. The author has obviously done her research on the effects of exposure at sea, and the deterioration in mind and spirit comes over excellently.
I have – rightly, I think - enthused over the book; but was there anything that didn’t work for me? Well, I always felt slightly in the dark about the ‘why’ of the men’s captivity – I would have liked to have the hints thrown at me earlier to avoid the nagging feeling of not quite knowing everything I wanted to.
The novel includes a lot of flashbacks. These are notoriously difficult to incorporate into any work, and to a large extent Johnstone skilfully pulls them off. In one or two places, though, I did feel the flashbacks butted in when the now was more important.
My criticisms are only minor nits, though. All in all, this doesn’t read like a first stand-alone release. Frenzy is a mature-looking work from a writer who clearly enjoys the craft and who hits the keyboard with confidence.
Frenzy is available from Amazon.com, and electronically from http://www.eternalpress.ca/frenzy.html
Find out more about Carole Johnstone at: http://www.carolejohnstone.com/