Book Review: The Fisherman by John Langan

The Fisherman is a cosmic tour de force unlike anything that’s been penned before.”

To the horror community at large, John Langan is no stranger. Hailed by critics as a writer with outstanding talent, he’s been published in multiple anthologies, including several “years best” anthologies, Ellen Datlow’s Fearful Symmetries, and two single author collections–Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters and the critically acclaimed The Wide Carnivorous Sky. And the reason for such a prolific body of published work is quite simple: the man is one hell of a good writer. His latest novel, The Fisherman, does nothing to disavow us of that opinion.

The words excellent, outstanding, and transcendent have been used by reviewers so often as to become cliché, but they also seem to be uniquely designed to describe John Langan’s second novel, The Fisherman. It’s the story of two widowers, Abe and Dan, who are drawn together by their grief and a shared love of fishing, a hobby both of them picked up to fill the voids left in their lives by their deceased spouses. In their never ending search for new places to fish, they discover Dutchman’s Creek and set out for a long day of fishing. But the creek is a stream that runs straight through the heart of hell and the terrors that await the duo are horrific beyond description.

Ironically, The Fisherman begins with an almost playful tone, paying almost tongue in cheek homage to Melville’s Moby Dick, but while Abe’s tone is sometimes playful throughout, the story itself is anything but. Right from the start, we sense that something horrible is coming, that our protagonist is moving inexorably toward some unknowable nightmare as he begins having strange experiences and terrifying dreams that seem innocuous at first but begin piling on tension that continues to build and intensify as we go along. Langan has his own way with weird fiction, and a dark, brooding, sometimes oppressive seeming suspense permeates the book even through the most mundane of circumstances in this complex and multilayered story.

A very human tale, The Fisherman deals with issues of loss and continuance, of learning how to carry on in the face of insurmountable grief and pain, and Langan delivers this often poignant narrative with a heart as big as the moon, feeding out details with one of the strongest, most captivating authorial voices to come along in recent times:

Some years ago, never mind how many, I started to fish. I’ve been fishing for a long time, now, and as you might guess, I know a story or two. That’s what fishermen are, right? Storytellers. Some I’ve lived; some I’ve had from the mouths of others. Most of them are funny; they bring a smile to your face and sometimes a laugh, which are no small things.

Whether he’s telling it with the voice of our protagonist, Abe, or that of Howard, the man who tells them the story of Rainer and his family and the history of the creek, he’s telling it with the voice of a true master, his use of the English language nothing less than poetic and enchanting as he leads us by our heartstrings through this story of sadness and terror.

Langan is a storyteller without rival, a wordsmith with an unlimited set of tools, not least of which is his comprehensive knowledge of character development, bringing us a duo of broken men who are real, sympathetic, and impossible not to care for as they each deal with their losses and the individual terrors they have to deal with. The Fisherman is largely character driven and Langan carries the story along through the use of skillful dialogue and character interaction, interspersed with his brilliant descriptions and vivid, almost sensual imagery. The conversations between various individuals in the book are both natural and purposeful, driving action or imparting information necessary to the motion of the story, but never bogging it down and, while the book is often strikingly deep, at no point does it become anything less than captivating.

John Langan has a lot of fine work behind him and, one would hope, even more ahead, but it may be a chore for him to outdo this. The Fisherman is a cosmic tour de force unlike anything that’s been penned before. Word Horde has been producing top shelf work since its inception and this mind-bending, heartbreaking tale of love, loss, friendship, and boundless horrors fits beautifully into their ever expanding lexicon. The Fisherman would make a perfect addition to the shelves of any lover of weird fiction or traditional horror and we’re hoping to see more soon from this extraordinary author who is working at the top of his class.


Publisher: Word Horde
eBook: (280pp)
Release Date: 30 June 2016

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