First published back in September of 2017, ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’ formed the debut novel from author Ash Hartwell.

DLS Synopsis:
The night before RMS Titanic was due to set sail across the Atlantic Ocean for New York, Patrick McGowen had gone to a nearby public house in Southampton, looking to try his luck at a game of cards.  There the Irishman not only cleared out the pockets of an unlucky local, but he also came away with a monkey, as a gift to bring him good fortune.  Recognising the potential worth of the exotic monkey, McGowen accepted the parting gift before leaving the rundown drinking hole for shores far further afield.

But unbeknown to McGowen, the monkey he was bringing on board the Titanic carried a terrible disease.  And unfortunately for the Irishman, shortly after the vast passenger liner had set sail on its maiden voyage, the monkey sank its razor sharp teeth into McGowen’s cheek.  The Irishman was about to learn of the monkey’s deadly infliction the hard way.

Within the hour McGowen was dead.  The ship’s pompous doctor was baffled by the suddenness of his patient’s death.  More so, when McGowen’s stone cold corpse suddenly disappears.  Something very strange and deeply sinister seemed to be at sea with those aboard the Titanic.

Meanwhile, Bridget Grafton had found that being the wife of Captain William Grafton was far from the desirable union she envisioned.  Having only been married some two months, Bridget was finding her new husband to be nothing but a sadistic, uncaring, egotistical lout.  And the recent beatings he’s dished out for her apparent disobedience, had left Bridget feeling that escape was her only option.  If not for her own sake, then for that of her unborn child.

Whilst other passengers were relaxing in the luxurious comfort afforded by the vast ship, tensions were running high behind many of the closed doors.  Murder, deceit and betrayal was spilling out onto the Titanic’s numerous corridors.  And it’s not long before its infecting all those on board.

In the same way as the monkey’s terrible disease…

DLS Review:
Okay, so who doesn’t love a good historical horror?  One embedded within an element of factual history is often all the more intriguing.  Indeed, warping and interweaving threads of fact with utterly inspired elements of imaginative horror can create a truly engrossing read.  And that precisely what we have with ‘Tip Of The Iceberg’.

Author Ash Hartwell has taken the story of RMS Titanic’s tragic sinking, and injected in his own magnificently inspired twist to the events that took place.  Toss aside any notion of a romantic romp across the Atlantic.  Leonardo DiCaprio has no place in the tale that unfolds within these tightly written pages.  Any thoughts of a middleclass love story with a heart-wrenching finale can go hang. Instead we have a story firmly rooted in visceral pulpish horror that takes absolutely no prisoners when the ship’s pistons start pumping.

The scene is set relatively closely to those details we know had actually taken place.  Only we have this monkey – Pandora – which is smuggled aboard the passenger liner.  It doesn’t take a hardened horror aficionado to guess where Hartwell’s taking his reimaging of the story.  But the lack of any substantial surprise in this particular element of the plot doesn’t detract one bit from the suspense or sheer enjoyment of the unfolding events.

The characters and the individual parts they play in the overall story are the absolute key to the success of the tale.  There’s a wonderful latticework of intertwining storylines that weave a rich and engrossing story, full of conflict and betrayal and dog-eat-dog high-class society snobbery.  The human element in the story is always at the very forefront of every aspect.  The characters and their respective plights pulling you along in the spiralling events which eventually culminate is a breath-taking grand finale of monstrous proportions.

The emotional turmoil that forms the very foundations for much of the story drags you right into the very thick of everything.  Bonds with some of the key characters – such as Bridget Grafton or her loyal chambermaid Esme Jackson – keep you emotionally vested in the intricacies of what’s transpiring.  But Hartwell doesn’t play a simple game of cards.  Instead he gives the characters true-to-life shades of grey.  They’re all flawed.  All have their own motives and reasons for being on the ship.  And ultimately, it’s these conflicting layers of human qualities that makes the story that much richer.

For horror-hounds there’s much to love within this story.  It’s dark and full of visceral blood-splatter and grisly gore.  We’re talking proper, old school pulp meets 80s B-Movie horror.  If Peter Jackson was to return to his roots and rewrite the story of the Titanic, then this is probably the sort of thing he’d conjure up.  You see, roaming the well-polished high-class corridors of this luxury passenger liner you have the ferocious flesh-hungry undead, ripping apart all those that happen to cross their path.

Furthermore, Hartwell doesn’t hold back one bit on the grisly side of the horror.  When things get nasty, they get absolutely drenched in blood, guts and dismembered body parts.  Oh yes, these infected undead bastards certainly go to town on their victims.  Nevertheless, all through this mayhem Hartwell doesn’t lose sight of the early twentieth century backdrop that accompanies it all.  The clear distinction in class hierarchy remains purposefully evident in the novel from start to finish.  Like with Seth Grahame-Smith’s mash-up ‘Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ (2009), the tone and historical backdrop play just as much of a vital part to the story’s telling as the horror and plot do.  And Hartwell executes this to absolute perfection.

This is a novel bursting at the seams with mounting blood-drenched horror, within a situation that quickly spirals out of all control.  It’s full of rich and wonderfully fleshed-out characters, each fighting for the limelight in a dramatic tale that’ll have you pouring at the pages until the dramatic but inevitable ending.

Prepare yourself for one hell of a voyage into a horror that will be clawing at your door as the icy waves swallow you whole.

The novel runs for a total of 337 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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