Day Four, by Sarah Lotz

>> Tuesday, August 11, 2015

TITLE: Day Four
AUTHOR: Sarah Lotz

PAGES: 352
PUBLISHER: Hodder & Stoughton

SETTING: Cruise ship in the Caribbean
TYPE: Horror
SERIES: Related to The Three

The trip of their dreams becomes the holiday of their nightmares: DAY FOUR is Sarah Lotz's extraordinary, unmissable follow-up to the book that made headlines around the world, THE THREE - perfect for fans of The Shining Girls, The Passage and Lost.

Four days into a five day singles cruise on the Gulf of Mexico, the ageing ship Beautiful Dreamer stops dead in the water. With no electricity and no cellular signals, the passengers and crew have no way to call for help. But everyone is certain that rescue teams will come looking for them soon. All they have to do is wait.

That is... until the toilets stop working and the food begins to run out. When the body of a woman is discovered in her cabin the passengers start to panic. There's a murderer on board the Beautiful Dreamer... and maybe something worse.

I loved Lotz's The Three. It wasn't perfect, but it was immensely creepy and gripping, and I enjoyed every minute I was reading it. When I heard she had a book coming out that was sort of along the same lines, it went straight on my purchase list.

The action here takes place on a cruise ship sailing the Caribbean, with the narration moving between a small number of characters in each chapter. There's a young woman working as assistant for a dodgy celebrity psychic, there's a blogger determined to expose the psychic, there's a Filipina cabin attendant dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, and several more, including a rapist, a drug-addicted doctor and an older woman who's part of a suicide pact.

Everything's going well until the fourth day of the cruise, when a fire breaks out. It's not a huge fire and it gets put out soon enough. Should be easy enough to do some quick repairs and get going again. Except that doesn't happen. The ship is dead. It's not moving and none of the communications systems are working. Generators keep things working for a little while, but then, little by little, all systems begin to fail. No running toilets, no electricity, no air conditioning. Not to mention a lot of really creepy things going on.

This was mostly fun, but quite disappointing. I think the style in The Three served to cover the shortcomings of Lotz's writing, which were unfortunately evident here. She's very unsubtle and unconvincing in her psychology. In The Three, since the book was structured as a collection of different bits of material -interview transcripts, online chats, reports- we were looking at characters from the outside. Sometimes the lack of subtlety shone through anyway (especially in the case of the religious loony American characters), but mostly, it was ok.

In Day Four, we get chapters cycling through the different main characters, and it's third person point of view, from deep in each of their minds. The problems are obvious, and the psychological make-up of the characters completely unbelievable. I keep using this word, but "subtletly" is the key. These characters are not complex in the least, and therefore they feel like stereotypes, not real people.

The creepiness was ok, but again, not as disturbing as in The Three. It seemed a lot more based on gross-out and what in a film would be the classic "quiet, quiet, quiet, LOUD!" tactic.

There was also something that bothered me as I was reading, having read The Three. I mentioned one of the characters, Celine, is a show-biz psychic. We know she's a fake (her assistant, Maddie, makes it clear that part of her staff's jobs is to dig for info on the audience and feed it back to Celine). The blogger character who's on the ship determined to expose her is particularly angry about a recent case, where Celine insisted that a little boy and his mum had survived a plane crash, and made the kid's grandmother spend a fortune trying to find them. Turns out the bodies of both were then found in the wreckage and identified by their DNA. Who were these? The boy was Bobby Small, mum was Lori, and the grandma Lillian. Readers of The Three will recognise those names. Bobby was one of the Three, one of the children who survived, and he was found immediately after the crash. I didn't quite know what to make of the inconsistency. Well, I'll just say that this made sense in the end!

Which brings me to the ending. I won't spoil it. I'll just say it didn't completely satisfy me, but things did make some sort of sense. And the very final bit was really properly creepy, which was great!



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