GORE IN THE STORE
425 pp RRP £8.99
Published in Paperback Titan Books, Out Now.
In Andy Davidson’s intriguing new supernatural tinged thriller, THE BOATMAN’S DAUGHTER, we are dropped deep into the unwelcoming and dangerous bayous of Arkansas amongst a variety of assorted oddballs and criminals, with an ageing witch thrown in for good measure. However, drug dealers and corrupt cops are not the only threats facing our young protagonist as there’s potentially something even more monstrous lurking in the dark heart of these foreboding marshes.
The titular daughter is Miranda Crabtree, whose father was killed on a fateful night many years ago that left her not only orphaned but with a mysterious mute and web-fingered baby to raise alongside the bayou’s resident witch. Now, Miranda is a young woman making ends meet by helping local criminals ferry drugs up and down the river. However, Miranda is no pushover. Adept at using a bow and arrow, she won’t go down without a fight, so unsurprisingly things come to a head when she’s employed to transport cargo for mad preacher Billy Cotton that finally crosses her moral line. As a result, a chain reaction of brutal violence and recriminations unearth bitter secrets from Miranda’s past, but this could also be the key for her finally reaching closure on what happened the night she lost her beloved father.
Davidson deftly conjures a compelling and tangible world. As a reader, you feel truly immersed in the humid, oppressive atmosphere of the swamp. Events are confined to a small radius, and the handful of characters contributes to the overall feeling of claustrophobia. Readers are stuck deep in the Arkansas bayou with Miranda; she can’t escape; neither can we.
We are drip-fed details about characters’ history and the magic and myths of the bayou but ultimately left wanting more with many questions left unanswered. In part, this helped to give the story an almost mythic feel and added to the overall sense of mystery and unease, but it also could occasionally be frustrating. For instance, I found Billy Cotton as a character and the workings of his church, somewhat unclear, which made him less effective as an antagonist as I wasn’t entirely sure what his goals were.
Stylistically this novel feels unique. Davidson is a confident and striking writer with his seamlessly interwoven hard boiled descriptions frequently leaving you on edge. He has a knack for giving his characters distinct names; Miranda Crabtree, Billy Cotton, Littlefish. He also gives them enough life that they feel real and three dimensional, and therefore it’s easy to cheer for our sympathetic leads.
One thing that prevented me from fully embracing the book was the instances of grim real-world horror and general unpleasantness. Charlie Riddle, the repellent one-eye cop, turned my stomach every time he made an appearance. It disappoints me when horror fiction relies on sexual assault and violence towards women as a way to characterise its villains and to generate shock. I’m a big fan of Stephen King, but he’s often guilty of this too, and it can sour an otherwise enjoyable reading experience. Just my personal feeling and I should stress that I don’t think Davidson is insensitive in his handling of this or overly exploitative in these moments, so I imagine most readers won’t have a problem.
A unique and confidently written southern gothic thriller. While not entirely to my tastes, recommended for fans of grittier horror yarns.
Reviewed by John Upton