6:29 PM 22nd October 2021
Review: Stone Heart Deep by Paul Bassett Davies
I’m not usually a fan of psychological thrillers in any medium but never say never, so I picked this one up and was quickly engrossed in its compelling tale.
Adam Budd (oh, what literary references could an English teacher weave into that name) is an ex-military man whose experiences are only shared with the reader little by little. He is also a "burned-out investigative journalist’" with a nose for a story and the courage to do what it takes to follow one, wherever it may lead. The opening chapter establishes him as a hero when he breaks a story of people trafficking and saving a group of teenage girls who were destined to be sold for sex. On the night of the award ceremony, however, news comes that his mother has died. They had long been estranged and he knows little about her affairs so is surprised, to say the least, that his inheritance includes Stone Heart House, a huge, ramshackle mansion on a remote Scottish island. Escaping yet another broken relationship, Adam decides to take some time out, to recharge his batteries and visit the island, to see the house for himself and to sort out her tangled affairs.
Paul Bassett Davies
His long journey is uneventful, unlike his short stay on the island. At first, it seems like "a charming haven of tranquillity", but he soon witnesses a fatal accident and the reaction of the locals gives rise to deep suspicion. They are calm, almost dismissive of the victim: an elderly lady who had the misfortune to ride her bicycle in front of a car. The single police officer seems disinclined to follow up the incident and Adam, when called to make a witness statement, is advised to moderate his version of events. His journalist nose is twitching but with no wifi and no phone signal, Adam, like the island, is cut off from mainland civilisation. Even the few satellite phones are unreliable.
Adam meets the solicitor who will act for him (cue a touch of romance given that she is an attractive single parent) and gets to look around "his" house, which is suitably eerie, with more rooms than you can count, passages which seem to follow no logical floor pattern, and one locked door. The dark description of this place, built into the rock and on the shores of the loch, adds to the rising tension and palpable aggression he experiences; and, yes, there are echoes of The Wicker Man
as the outsider tries to get a grip on what is happening around him, in the close-knit island community ... without getting himself killed, that is!
He discovers the island has an unusually high child mortality rate, yet the local doctor seems unconcerned. To Adam, it seems everyone has something to hide, not least the solicitor, Harriet. She appears to want to warn him of something but even in their more intimate moments, alone in her house, is unable to speak freely. Her son, Logan, is a strange child who seems to be wound up like a coiled spring. He is clearly deeply unhappy and evidently worried about "the game" in which he must participate in the summer. It will be his first time, the same as all the children of his age who live on the island. Adam has no idea about the remarkable twist to come nor the dreadful secret hidden in the murky depths of the loch.
The characters are well drawn, from the old sea dog, Archie, for whom the island is too quiet – he still likes ‘a bit of salt in [his] porridge’ – to the unscrupulous businessman, Lars; the unkindly Doctor Druce; Ogden, who wears several different hats (literally and metaphorically); and the local heavy mob, Sim and Barty. Adam, particularly, becomes very familiar to the reader who wants to see him survive. His training is put to good use and the violence is well placed and justified in the increasingly frightening plot. Not all the ends are neatly tied up although the conclusion does not invite a sequel. The reader’s imagination can dot the i’s and cross the t’s quite well enough!
Stone Heart Deep
is published by Lightning Books