Sometimes a good story well told is the most rewarding experience. In the case of Chris Ewan’s Dark Tides, this is most definitely the case. Ewan tells his tale in what seems like a very simple manner; however, the reality is that the structure of the novel is just different enough to make the whole experience feel fresh and experimental, and the end, deeply rewarding.
Dark Tides takes place on the Isle of Man between 1995 and 2014. The unique aspect of the book is that each section of the text only tells the events of one day – the same day – every year. To make things even a bit more complex, the years are not revealed to the reader in sequential order. Chris Ewan manipulates the timeline to help maintain the element of surprise throughout the narrative.
The date reader’s visit each year is October 31. On the Isle of Man, this is the day for celebrating Hop-tu-naa – the Manx Halloween. Similar to Halloween in other locations, this is a day for dressing up, collecting candy, and all sorts of other shenanigans.
In 1995, Claire Cooper’s mother disappeared on Hop-tu-naa. This unanswered mystery – as well as the day on which it occurred – has haunted Claire for her whole life, so when a group of five friends ask her to participate in their annual Halloween ritual, she thinks it will be a good distraction. Little does she know that by accepting this invitation, she is altering all of their lives forever.
The group of six teenagers use the holiday as an excuse to dare each other to perform activities of various risk levels. One year, those dares go horribly wrong and the ramifications of that mistake will hover over the entire group of friends year after year. So much so, that every year after the event, one of the friends ends up dead during the Hop-tu-naa celebrations. What at first seem like accidents slowly reveal themselves to be calculated attacks. Will they be able to figure out why this is happening in time to save even one of their lives?
Chris Ewan has written a book that feels very much in the Gothic tradition. Foggy nights, light houses, old mansions filled with secrets – these are just some of the tropes that are re-worked and revitalized in this very modern story. With every turned page, the reader can feel the menacing nature of the landscape and the malignant secret that eats away at the members of the group. This makes for a read which feels very creepy and forbidding – perfect for the holiday at the center of the tale.
There are set-pieces within the novel which will stay with the reader long after other aspects of the story are forgotten. The pivotal night in their lives involves breaking into a spooky mansion in an effort to scare the occupants. Later, it will be the friends themselves who will be terrified on a risky rock-climbing expedition. Even the trick-or-treating scene with the eight-year-old Claire and her mother is fraught with tension and questions – the answers to which Ewan slowly reveals to the reader.
After starting his career writing a more comedic in tone series, Chris Ewan has spent the last few years perfecting the stand-alone suspense thriller format. Dark Tides is just the latest in that line and readers get the sense that he is only just beginning. For that, we can all be thankful.