Historical fiction knows no bounds, which is what makes the genre imaginative. The ability to craft something new, exciting, and even twisted, using the known, the historical, if done right, can be as thrilling as cutting through your neighbor’s yard, not totally sure that their mangy mutt is locked away indoors. You get away with it? That rush is magical.
Alma Katsu dives into the tragically bitter waters of the horrific Titanic and Britannic sinkings with The Deep, a creepy “what-if” adding to the bygone doom. Within, Katsu postulates that, icebergs aside, something ominous forced its way into that ice-y mix. And it wasn’t Dewar’s White Label.
The Deep has a tightly-researched and well-executed plot filled with real, and real-annoying, characters. The ghostly play comes too late in the game and serves as nothing more than a mere raft for yet another pair of star-crossed lovers to hold onto in the long dark night.
Katsu introduces Annie Hebbley, a nurse on the Britannic, now a converted hospital ship helping with the war effort. There she is reintroduced to Mark Fletcher while the reader is introduced to their time together on the Titanic through a series of flashbacks. There, Annie is a maid to Fletcher, his wife Caroline, and their thematically-named infant daughter Ondine (Latin meaning “little wave”). Annie takes an immediate liking to Ondine and does her best to care for the little tyke while navigating the bulkheads of the Titanic and its first-class citizenry alike. When accidents, deaths, and the occasional séance turn up the paranormal level, Annie realizes wicked forces are at work but is helpless in preventing the disaster. After surviving the Titanic, she begins to feel the same demonic doom on the Britannic.
Like many b-grade horror films of the eighties, the supernatural menace teases are more satisfying than the payoff. Katsu takes her time to build a large network of supporting cast members. Her research went deeper than simply watching the James Cameron movie. Ultimately? Those stories are flotsam and jetsam in the wake of the sinking; both forgotten and unnecessary. Too much time was spent on those supporting mechanisms and, ironically, does not go, ahem, deep enough on the backstory between Annie and Mark.
The Deep surfs instead of dives and sinks without the aid of an iceberg. Katsu succeeds in drawing on the deep history of tragedy but the ultimate scare fizzles rather than flares. A fun read for those who like their macabre set to prime-time CBS.
Thank you to NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the deep read.