Sunday, 16 May 2010

Down Deep by Mike Croft

One Man's Opinion - One That Got Away

Here’s one you almost certainly didn’t read earlier.

I can say with some confidence given what happened to it.

It was a darned shame.

The biggest problem for the book is its cover. Of course, it shouldn’t matter, but it does. It looks as though it’s been designed to sit face front at an airport or train station, only somehow it’s completely missed that boat. Even more unfortunately it wasn’t wearing a life-jacket. It practically had to swim single-handedly to the bookseller’s shelves to find a spot and be ignored like some dusty teddy in a toy shop.

Luckily for dusty teddies, they always find an owner in the end, someone to love and look after them and give them a cuddle when they need it most. That didn’t really happen to Down Deep. It hardly made a splash in the book world and the big shame is, it’s worthy of making more than a few waves.

Part of the problem may have been having a publisher (the excellent Alma) not versed in the production of titles within this genre. I get the sense that they didn’t really know how to play it.

It’s an environmental thriller where science meets science and the winner, well that’s the whole damned planet when it comes down to it.

Strange things are afoot in the world of marine mammals. It seems there’s been a mass communication between them and that they’ve moved to tell somebody something. Sadly for the mammals, there’s only one man prepared to listen.

After the strange death of a dolphin in captivity a whole host of whales, a school of thought that contains just about every species imaginable, swim at full speed and beach themselves on Brighton’s pebbles. It’s unprecedented. The whales shouldn’t even be in those waters, let alone be seen together.

It’s a headache for everyone, especially those were sunbathing there at the time.

How the hell they’re going to deal with the whales is anyone’s guess. Our marine expert, Roddy Ormond, seems able to see beyond the health and safety issues and bats for his friends. He’ll be pilloried for it in the end, but his heart is with those from the sea.

OK. I know what you’re thinking. It’s a way out plot, might be hard to swallow. Might stretch your imaginations to their limits. Might not be the book you’re after. Of course, you might be right, but if you’ve ever enjoyed a Michael Crichton or any brand of thriller, if you get hold of this you’re in for a treat.

It’s a credit to Croft that he keeps it real, keeps us believing from start to finish. The beaching of the whales is amazingly told. It has power and speed, but most of all we’re really rooting for the lead whale, who’s determination to save the seas goes beyond looking after himself.

The bad guy is completely ruthless and incredibly sad. As well-drawn a scumbag as you’ll have seen for some time. He’s not your typical hard guy or your demonic genius, he’s more your lonely, self-absorbed, rich bastard. His fortune has been amassed through the dumping of incredibly toxic chemicals on the sea’s bottom. To do this he’s got into bed with members of the government (not literally, he’s far too repulsive for that), and it’s this need to save their environment from this new poison that has brought the whales to action.

A cynical journalist, Kate Gunning, provides a rather unusual love interest and is a wonderful side-kick for our hero.

Ormond and Gunning team together. Their lives at risk all the while as they set about trying to work out just what is going on, focussing in part on a message from the sea that needs decoding.

It’s a great read.

The research involved goes beyond diligent, yet is placed subtly through the story.

Croft knows his onions as well as his fish. His knowledge and application of the craft, how to hook us and pull us in so that we can’t see what’s going on is sublime.

He does a wonderful job of unravelling his main players, stripping them of practically everything as they are tormented by their individual quests. Their depths are good and dark as you might expect; torches are provided to us as readers in the form of a deliciously playful humour that runs through the pages.

With the summer on its way, if you feel like taking a hugely enjoyable read, in terms of baggage allowance, you won’t find many books as engrossing on a purely gram for gram basis. Just don’t sit too close to the water, now, will you?

And, if you happen to be a film maker and you're reading this, the book is a must. It's the kind of book that would make a film to blow our socks off. Even better in these changing days, 3D would bring out aspects of it wonderfully. And if you happen to be Danny Boyle, I doubt they'd be able to hold you back - honest. Jaws with teeth.

Go to it.

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