Book Review: Ship of Shadows by Dave Jeffery

“Undoubtedly the most harrowing outing for Beatrice and her friends, but ultimately the most rewarding for the reader … Jeffery has proven yet again that character development is integral to his storytelling and he makes us feel right at home.”

 

He may have a full-time career in healthcare, but UK horror author Dave Jeffery hasn’t allowed that to stop him from following his passion of telling stories. It even played a part in his 2008 novel Finding Jericho (Hidden Thoughts Press, 2012), which received widespread acclaim for shining a spotlight on mental health. But Jeffery has managed to display the full range of his storytelling abilities in recent years with the action and adventure horror novel Frostbite (Severed Press, 2017), supernatural horror Bad Vision (Hersham Horror Books, 2018) and his forthcoming werewolf novella Tooth & Claw (Grinning Skull Press, 2019). He is also the author of the popular supernatural YA mystery Beatrice Beecham series.

The latest instalment of the series opens with a prologue set onboard a galleon off the English coast where a trial is taking place. Accused of witchcraft, Elizabeth Caldecott stands ready to be thrown to the freezing water below. If she dies, she dies innocent. If she escapes the icy waves, she is surely a witch. Witchcraft plays a major role in the plot of the book, and it is a strong opening. Not only because it sets the foundation for the story to follow, but it also examines the unjust and misogynistic practice of witch-hunting that was prevalent at the time. Also something that will play a part later in the book.

We are quickly introduced to Beatrice and her friends. Or re-introduced if you are familiar with the earlier books in the series, but this isn’t a pre-requisite for the new book; Jeffery deftly weaves pertinent details from previous instalments without detracting from the enjoyment or slowing the pace of the story. “The Newshounds” as they are known are still very much as close as they were at the end of Cryptic Crypt, closer in some cases as Beatrice and Lucas are now a romantic item. And they have welcomed new friend, Emily, into the fold, finding herself drawn to Elmo, who has gone even farther than the others with their desire to make her feel welcome by learning sign language. Completing the group is Beatrice’s best friend, Patience. At times they seem a little too clean-cut and wholesome for a group of teenagers, but they are the heroes of the story. And they have to be wholesome when living in a place like Dorsal Finn.

Sure, the quaint, little seaside town seems like the ideal place to raise a family and enjoy the quiet life. But it conceals a sinister presence at its core, the devious Dark Heart that has sought to reach out and manipulate the town for its own nefarious plans. But it has found a formidable foe in Beatrice and company in previous books and has been dormant for a year, biding its time. But it seems the town has more troubling ties to horrific events of the past, specifically the witch hunts that spread through the world during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It appears that fates and past crimes are aligning to bring another explosive fight between good and evil to the streets of Dorsal Finn, placing The Newshounds firmly in its path. But what sinister forces are at play? The pacing of the story is excellent, Jeffery teasing out details along the way, all the while allowing his characters to grow organically and relationships, old and new, to develop.

Familiar names appear on both sides of the fight, from mayor Gideon Codd to librarian Agnes Clutterbuck, local bad-boy Edward Chorley (a previous thorn in Beatrice’s side) to Beatrice’s family. Indeed, brother Thomas plays a much more integral part in this story and the relationship between the two goes from one of typical sibling rivalry to a sense of respect shared by two people fighting on the same side. There are some new faces in the form of local detective Jonas Cotteridge and TV survivalist (and current idol of Thomas Beecham) Claire Drill who each play their own part as the story speeds towards its conclusion at the launch of the new super-yacht The Spirit of the Ocean, which may or may not have ties to the galleon and crew in the prologue. Not to mention the appearance of a mysterious man in a strange house in a land between life and death.

Undoubtedly the most harrowing outing for Beatrice and her friends, but ultimately the most rewarding for the reader. Not only must they face the threat of a spectral witch hell-bent on revenge, but there is still the matter of Dorsal Finn’s Dark Heart, lying in wait planning who-knows-what. Add to that the very human, but no less important relationship struggles, whether between Beatrice and Lucas, or Lucas and his long-lost father, or the strain felt by the individual Newshounds with supernatural abilities and not feeling the support they need. The adventure and mystery elements of the plot are essential, and handled brilliantly, but they would be worthless without a strong cast of characters. Thankfully, Jeffery has proven yet again that character development is integral to his storytelling and he makes us feel right at home with The Newshounds, even those of us decades removed from our teenage years. We look forward to booking our return ticket to Dorsal Finn for his next adventure knowing that, no matter what danger awaits us, we’ll be in good hands with Beatrice and her friends. All of them our friends.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Paperback: 412 (pps)
Release Date: 14 November 2018

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