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It Waits Below, written by Eric Red (Book Review)

08.25.2014by: Jake Dee


PLOT: When a trio of salvage-extracting mariners are tasked with retrieving a lost treasure trove at the bottom of the Indian ocean, a band of thieving pirates isn't their only problem. An angry, asteroidal alien-life-form is!

REVIEW: Legendary horror master Eric Red continues his Stephen King like efficacy of pounding out a quality new novel a year. This time Red returns with the saltily sinister IT WAITS BELOW, a relentlessly roiling alien-invasion romp set in the dark recesses of the Indian Ocean. Like his previous two tomes - DON'T STAND SO CLOSE and THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE - I enjoyed myself immensely while reading IT WAITS BELOW, as Red once again demonstrates how suspensefully aplomb his storytelling acumen continues to be. While vastly different from his last two - diegetically, epochally, tonally - one thing remains a constant: Red continues to enrapture his readers by drawing deeply engrossing characters melded with tightly-plotted, unpredictably gruesome action. Horror fiction aficionados, I shit you not, do yourself a goddamn favor and pick up IT WAITS BELOW stat. You will not be disappointed!

Meet the three-man crew of The Neptune, a state-of-the-art Salvage Rescue Submarine, owned by Enright Enterprises. Sebastian Enright, cocksure captain of the ship, his brusque Russian pilot Oleg Polidori and buxom first apprentice Jane Clark, have been assigned to plumb the unmanned depths of the Indian Ocean - some 10,000 meters deep - in order to retrieve the sunken treasure stowed in recently discovered Spanish galleon The Corona...a warship that suddenly vanished over 150 years ago. I'm talking a $30 million trove of gold bars, ornate doubloons, rare coins, the works! Coordinating the operation is Sebastian's brother, Roy, who mans his own Support vessel on the surface called The Tulsa. Sounds like a solid plan, right? Fully funded, resourceful and well organized? Yeah, not so fast! As if the mission wasn't daunting on its own - diving a submersible deeper than any before it - Enright, Clark and Polidori must contend with The Olga, a heavily armed barge of oleaginous pirates with plans of looting their rescued booty. Still not harry enough for you? Well then, how about the real assailant: A malefic extraterrestrial life-form at the bottom of the ocean pining for a warm human host to impregnate!

So many superlatives to get to, where to start? I think what I loved most about IT WAITS BELOW - in addition to the slowly mounted suspense Red builds towards its unforeseen crescendo of flash-bang bloodshed - is the deftly weaved narrative strands therein. By the final third of the book we tensely and tersely crosscut between The Neptune's ill-fated deep-sea dive - replete with unknown alien contact, depleted oxygen and fatally pressurized freefall - and above the murk, a high-caliber shootout between Russian Pirates and Roy Enright's Tulsa support crew. Real shit, just one of these narrative threads alone would have been raucous and riveting, but to tether them together in a way that feels neither forced nor contrived - well, it's a feat to be commended. This is grippingly good, old-fashioned storytelling that not only keeps you on edge, but catches you off-kilter as well. I won't spoil too much, but major character transformations occur throughout the story, with the line between friend and foe increasingly muddling. That you cannot see such developments coming, even if slightly teased or foreshadowed in some instances, is a true testament to Red's carefully-constructed story architecture. Even if I admonished to expect the unexpected, you won't be able to stay ahead of Red's sly potting. Dude's got more coy misdirection than Ricky f*cking Jay!

But enough of the cunning craft, you want to hear about the unremitting grue, right? Well, you'll be pleased to know that this might be Red's messiest foray yet...and that's quite a statement coming off the smoldering gore-sodden werewolf-western SANTA SANGRE! But between the traded firepower of a mini-war above surface and the cringingly detailed sub-aquatic carnage below...not to mention the pumped-up pyrotechnic finale (nice JAWS homage Red, ALIEN too)...I promise you, there's more bloodletting in this sumbitch than a goddamn donation bank! Again, not to get too spoiler-y, but I also loved the entire origination, description and ghastly evolution of the alien life-form itself. Here's a intergalactic E.T. that hitched a ride to Earth on an asteroid over a century ago, crashing into and sinking the now discovered Corona ship. The semi-sentient entity has shown tremendous patience for a warm host to overtake and propagate its species with. Until the crewmembers of The Neptune descend, it's only contact with life on Earth comes via sea-crab. And even those descriptions - scuttling insect-like critters - are icky enough, but when Enright, Clark and Polidori encounter the alien organism as it swells in size and appetite...that's when the graphic displays of bodily, biological horror truly unfolds. And it's f*cking gnarly!

I'm talking about leaky pools of grue - sticky, clumpy puddles of pulped viscera at every turn. I'm talking about gory green-goop and ickily painted alien-insides, bizarre underwater specimens of mutated terror filling almost every page. And the deeper we get, both in the story and in the water, the worse shit gets. Thankfully, in order to keep things fresh, Red fills the margins with not just the aforementioned narrative threads, or the sudden character swerves, but with actual marine lingo and educational purpose. Look, I realize one doesn't pick up a horror novel to find any sort of enlightenment, but in a cool subsidiary way, I feel like I know a lot more about deep-sea submersibles - what they're comprised of and how they operate - than I ever did before. In the responsible fashion of a well prepared writer, Red clearly researched his subject and not only paints the story with the requisite accoutrements of the setting - but does so in a way that feels both authentic and educational. A small detail it might be, but it makes all the difference when painting a specific, believable world. Of course, as a longtime screenwriter trained to think in pictures, Red understands how to paint such a visual, fully-realized time and place. And he does so again here with the terrifying expanse of the ocean!

I could go on waxing beatific, but nothing cuts to the chase quicker than the overall sentiment...cop yourself an edition of IT WAITS BELOW this instant!! Don't wait. It's a perfect summer horror read, not only sure to sate any and all gore-addicts and jaded sci-fi E.T. geeks, but it will keep you utterly off-guard and guessing what's to happen next. Well drawn characters whose fate you will not be able to predict, viscerally-charged-carnage you will not be able to shake, and a satisfyingly souped-up conclusion - these are the primary reasons you should enthusiastically take the plunge! Do it now, IT WAITS BELOW!


Extra Tidbit: IT WAITS BELOW hits the stands on September 2nd.



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