First published in November 2015, ‘Salvage’ formed the first full-length novel from Canadian author Duncan Ralston.

DLS Synopsis:
Owen Sadler had been suffering from lucid dreams and messed-up hallucinations.  The death of his sister, Lori, still cast a dark shadow over his past.  He loved her deeply.  And he missed her every single day since she was buried.

Owen had been told that Lori drowned whilst night diving alone at a lake up north. Her oxygen tank had supposedly run out.  But something didn’t quite add up in his head.  Lori had been a very capable diver.  She knew what she was doing in the water.  Something wasn’t quite right with the explanation.  So much so that after another batch of terrifying hallucinations which saw him almost drowning in his own bathtub, Owen Sadler decides to retrace his sister’s last steps  in the hope of obtaining some degree of closure.

A few days later Owen has rented the very same house along Chapel Lake where Lori had been staying prior to her untimely death.  A secluded and beautifully picturesque spot overlooking the vast lake.  However, Owen knows the lake holds many secrets.  In its murky depths numerous skeletons from the past lay hidden.  The town of Peace Falls has been submerged under the surface of the lake since it was flooded in the late 1970’s to accommodate a hydroelectric dam.  The chapel’s spire still rises out from the surface of the water; the only sign that the old town once existed.

However, not long after Owen’s arrival at the lakeside property he finds increasingly unnerving things happening in the house.  The power starts flickering, there are strange shadows and creaks in the night, and the clocks are all stopped at 2:06.  Something is far from right.  Something is calling out to him.  Something to do with his sister’s untimely death, the submerged remains of Peace Falls, and restless ghosts from the past.

Above and below the surface of Chapel Lake, Owen Sadler is trying to piece together the mystery that still haunts him.  The mystery that has held him back.  The mystery that he believes took away his beloved sister...

DLS Review:
Duncan Ralston is one of those authors who seems to be able to quite effortlessly adapt his style of writing to suit each of his particular stories.  We’ve seen his tales shock, scare and repel.  They’ve cut to the bone, chilled to the core, and delivered stomach-churning gore.  Here we see Ralston try his hand at a quietly-unnerving ghost story with a strong element of mystery behind it.  And once again, Ralston has managed to execute this particular style near-perfectly.

What you have with ‘Salvage’ is a slow-burning character-driven story that lays down a thick fog of mystery which (only very gradually) dissipates as the story gets to around half the way in.  In fact, for the first half of the tale, Ralston bombards the reader with more and more oddness and purposefully baffling scenes in order to keep the reader guessing.

However, once the pieces start falling into place, the cautiously paced tale begins to pick up some serious momentum.  Of course Ralston throws in a veritable tonne of swerve-balls to catch you out.  After all, the mystery element is at the very core of the whole thing.

Characterisation is superb.  Our protagonist, forty-year-old Owen Sadler, is given such attention that he feels like living, breathing flesh and blood.  The sheer skill of Ralston's portrayal of Owen, along with his love-interest in Crazy Jo Dunsmuir, the various locals we’re introduced to, and pretty much anyone else who makes an appearance in the novel, is second-to-none.  Indeed, each and every one of them are given their own voices, their own individual personalities, and their own unique mannerisms.

Furthermore, into every thread of the ghost story Ralston has inter-woven a powerful and deeply unnerving reflection of how religion can be twisted out of shape until it's something entirely different.  We know this has happened time and time again.  History has shown us this with the likes of the Reverend Jim Jones, radicalised terrorists, and a whole host of wacko nutjobs out there who have killed and corrupted in the name of the faith they have twisted out of all shape.  It's a sensitive subject (although no more so than the likes of capital punishment which the author has previously explored) - and once again Ralston tackles it with confidence and intelligent strength, rather than a heavy-hand that would ruin the sensitive balance of the whole story.

There's certainly a downbeat atmosphere and cloyingly depressive vibe to the entire story.  Think Stephen King’s deeply atmospheric and evocative novel ‘Bag Of Bones’ (1998), only with a more Ray Cluely meets G.R. Yeates suggestive style of writing to it.

This is a story for the cold winter nights.  Wrap yourself up in a thick blanket, dim the lights and get swallowed up in Ralston’s murky underwater world where the ghosts from the past are just as dangerous now as they were when they were alive.

This is a story of insanity.  This is a story of hideous corruption.  This is a story that weaves a tight knot of mystery, and only when it eventually unravels does it reveal a darkness that feels like it will swallow you whole.  Powerful.  Evocative.  Depressing.  But somewhere underneath the murky dark waters there’s the faintest hint of a glimmering light.  A light that will see you through to the end.

A spectacular ghost story.

The novel runs for a total of 298 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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