The phrase ‘if you’ve got a winning formula, why change it?’ is clearly one that the writer Chris Ewan doesn’t agree with. He has made a mark with the titles in his witty and entertaining crime series The Good Thief’s Guides, all of which enjoyed critical acclaim and respectable sales. So — one might legitimately ask — why rock the boat with an entirely different kind of book? The answer to that is simple – in their very different way, his new novels, set in the author’s own Manx territory, are proving to be just as accomplished as the earlier series. Safe House dealt with governmental corruption and international terrorism. And impressive though it was, the new outing, Dark Tides, is even better, this time drawing on the Isle of Man Halloween convention of Hop-tu-naa.
Claire Cooper is just eight years old when her mother disappears without trace during Hop-tu-naa. The years do little to assuage her loss, until Claire, now a teenager, finds herself part of a group of five friends who celebrate Halloween with foolhardy dares. Claire is a participant, but she is more mature than her friends and her presence changes the nature of the group. Then one of the pranks takes a very grim turn, and the group is torn apart.
Six years pass, and one of Claire’s friends dies in what appears to be an accident on the night of Hop-tu-naa. Claire has now become a police officer, and is not convinced that the death was accidental – and what is the significance of the single footprint found near the body? After another Halloween death and another footprint, Claire begins to fear that somebody is seeking revenge – and the secret to the identity of the killer clearly lies in the past.
If the above scenario – prank goes wrong, body count begins — sounds familiar from a hundred films, well, yes, it is. But such is Chris Ewan’s skill that this is a truly compelling piece of work. Ewan utilises the more sinister aspects of Manx folklore, forging from them a truly atmospheric thriller, about which one is forced to use one of the oldest clichés in the reviewer’s handbook: it is impossible to put down. If Ewan chooses never to go back to his lighter Good Thief’s Guide series and continues to produce novels like Dark Tides, readers will have little cause to complain.
DARK TIDES ***
by Chris Ewan