The Deep

By Nick Cutter

Following up The Troop, his sensational debut thriller, was never going to be easy for Nick Cutter. But The Deep shows no lack of ambition in its own spectacular journey into the extremes of grotesque horror.

If anything it might suffer from being too ambitious. In brief, a strange plague has swept the globe, robbing people of their minds to the point where their bodies shut down as well. The only cure for “the ‘Gets” may lie at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, eight miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, where a “sentient goo” that might turn out to be a wonder drug has just been found.

A three-man scientific crew is working in a lab at the bottom of the Trench, but something like cabin fever has set in. And so Luke Nelson, the brother of one of the scientists, is sent down to see what’s going on.

The isolated location allows Cutter to hammer with exquisite effectiveness on a number of staple horror themes. In the first place there is the total darkness of the bottom of the ocean, which in turn heightens other senses. Strange and scary sounds resonate throughout the lab as the lights start to flicker, and even smells come to life (the “stink of insanity,” the “reek of darkness,” and “the gamey stink of adrenaline”).

The darkness is also made visible by the imagination. The journey to the bottom of the sea is a trip into inner space and the unconscious. There’s an evil force down there that eats into your head by way of animated “dream pools” and nightmares come to life, not to mention some Freudian furniture from Luke’s past that has to be re-arranged.

Finally there is the gnawing sense of claustrophobia that comes with living under conditions of extreme pressure. The trillions of tons of water pressing in from outside the lab keeping everyone on edge with the fear of body- and soul-crushing implosion.

The Deep eschews the purely physical horror of The Troop for more psychological and supernatural frights (“ineffable” is a favourite word). This is both good and bad. While not lacking in bloody gross-out effects, the novel also takes a rather woolly ride through a cluttered narrative. But one expects genre fans to thrill at the imaginative range and page-turning power, and not mind the mess.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, January 2015.

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