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by Howard Butcher RELEASE DATE: Jan. 14, 2022

Engaged grad students in the Bahamas tangle with deadly sea creatures and an even deadlier cartel in this tense thriller.

Cael Seabrook and his future wife, Aja, see their summer trip to Bimini in 1984 as “an early honeymoon.” They’re on a beautiful tropical island, living in a rental house overlooking a lagoon, but the two are working on their doctoral dissertations, as well; Aja studies cone snails, while Seabrook catches, tags, and tracks juvenile lemon sharks. It’s dangerous work, as cone snails are one of the world’s most venomous animals, and Seabrook, out on a boat alone, could run into aggressive tiger sharks. Their most unsettling encounter, however, doesn’t involve sea creatures. An armed man, with scarred holes where his ears once were, forces Aja, a certified emergency medical technician, to tend to his gunshot wounds. He eventually leaves the couple’s home, but it’s clear he belongs to a cartel, and Seabrook and Aja worry that he’ll someday return. Indeed, cartel members do rear their ugly heads but with an unexpected demand: They want the $50 million that the “Earless Man” evidently stole. The Dores cartel, which is notorious for “brazen acts of violence,” sends its deadliest hit man, Pelon, who has slaughterhouse saws and grinders for torturing and murdering victims. The cartel abducts Aja and threatens to take her life unless Seabrook comes up with cash that he doesn’t have. As Aja searches for a way to escape her captors, Seabrook uses his expertise and experience to try to appease the cartel just long enough to save his true love.

The first half of Butcher’s novel is a slow but riveting build to fierce confrontations with evil. For example, the appealing couple initially befriends their landlord’s children, whom they affectionately dub “the Sea Cherubs.” The three kids get their own subplot as they desperately try to evade their abusive father. Around the same time, Seabrook spots signs of a sea creature with a powerful bite; when he finally sees this “Razormouth,” it’s an “otherworldly fish” that he’s convinced is an entirely new species. Once the cartel villains take center stage in the latter half, the author amps up the suspense in earnest. Pelon and cartel head Concha Dores are revealed as cold, ferocious individuals who take glee in hurting others; indeed, the book features copious scenes of bloody and visceral imagery. But it’s Seabrook and Aja’s fight against a menacing enemy that has the most impact, as the nail-biting tension rarely lets up. Butcher also offers alluring prose, as when describing the water’s rainbow hues: “some gilded and electric, others mystical, others dark and opaque, and others celestial and crystalline.” Moreover, the lovingly detailed sea creatures become characters in their own rights, from the mysterious and elusive Razormouth to Clara, a baby nurse shark that seems quite fond of Aja’s belly rubs. Some even play a part in the superb final act, which offers thorough resolution and a surprise or two.

An exciting tale of vicious predators on land and at sea.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-7379603-0-0

Page Count: 399

Publisher: Deep Reef Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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