This is the first episode in an ‘intelligent adventure’ series (‘Hell Holes’), which mixes the heft of heavyweight geology and climate science with the demons of the underworld unbound, in all their slavering ferocity. It’s a genre-bending bonanza of science, speculative fiction and supernatural action, a nifty idea which would make a perfect movie pitch. Think Jurassic Park but with wolven hellhounds taking the place of the velociraptors, and a sky full of giant flying demonic bat-monsters. As you might expect, much running and shouting ensues…
What Lurks Below is a short novel which fair stomps along, from the initial alarm when giant sinkholes start appearing in the Alaskan wilderness and threaten billion-dollar oilfields, to its pell-mell scramble for survival in the later chapters. We meet the expert geologist, his climate-specialist wife and their grad students, who team up with the oil company exec, a survival specialist, and an unexpected journalist who tags along for the ride. She, it transpires, knows more about the hell holes than the geologists do…
This feels like an indie author’s early work, and it shows in the writing. In the early chapter it leans heavily on big lumps of background information, where the serious-sounding science is delivered in meaty lectures. Then the tone changes dramatically as the supernatural angle kicks in, and the more unfortunate members of the team fall as sacrificial red shirts to various voracious beasts. Can’t say I cared much about most of them; the only character who felt completely realised was Aileen, the long-lived woman of mystery.
What Lurks Below is almost two short books in one, as if someone grafted together Jodie Foster’s Contact and Vin Diesel’s Pitch Black. Readers who are looking for the rampant action of the latter might not enjoy the scholarly pace of the former. I preferred the more measured approach of the first half (although even I thought that the students kept wittering on about their theses just a little too much).
SPOILER ALERT! Many readers don’t enjoy books which finish on a cliff-hanger, to drag you back for the second instalment, so I feel honour-bound to say that What Lurks Below leaves the reader at a completely crucial moment. But it’s not like you have to wait a couple of years for author Donald Firesmith to write the next one: if you enjoyed the experience you can immediately grab the second in the series, Demons On The Dalton which is out now.
A rapid read; ideal if you’re looking for bite-size entertainment.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
What Lurks Below: Hell Holes 1 by Donald Firesmith is available at Amazon: often for free
Looking for more rapid reads? Try The Stoner Stories…
Find these quick thrillers at Amazon