John Langan's The Fisherman is a slow-burn tale of cosmic horror told on two fronts. This is the story of two widowers, Abe and Dan, who find solace in their shared hobby of fishing and plan on sinking their lines into Dutchman's Creek, a hard to find locale unless you know exactly where to look. Beyond being hard to find, there's rumors about this creek...rumors and stories. Dutchman's Creek has a lot of history, and Langan focuses on this for the bulk of his narrative.
I have to admit, when Abe began relaying the story of Dutchman's Creek, as told to him by a cook at a diner they stop at before embarking on their trip, who heard it from a priest who heard it from somebody else, I was worried that this book would be reduced to a game of Telephone. I was also a bit jarred by, after having spent several long chapters with Abe and getting lost in his narrative and intonations of their ill-fated trip to Dutchman's Creek, I was suddenly in the midst of a historical story 100 years prior.
Thankfully, the history Langan presents is rich and highly interesting, and filled with several intriguing characters. Once the horror elements begin to weave their way into the account, the story really kicks into high gear with some wonderful imagery and fantastical scenarios. I flat-out loved the mythology Langan explores here, exploiting the watery elements in both theme and object to deliver an excellent bit of cosmic horror. Langan invests us in these characters (both past and present) suitably well, and the sense of creeping dread is completely engrossing.
The biggest risk in presenting a narrative with the story-within-a-story approach is that there are effectively two endings. I found the climax to the historical segment to be much more satisfying than the present-day events, although once Abe and Dan's stories reach their finish the moody atmosphere was scintillating enough that even though I'd finished reading this on a sunny evening I'd swear the sky was filled with dark, rain-laden clouds.
The Fisherman was the first book I've read by Langan, and you can mark me as suitably impressed. His writing style is very comfortable, and within a matter of pages I felt like I was right there with Abe, listening to a long fisherman's story on the river's shores. And while this is a densely written story, it is a compulsively readable one. Through Abe, Langan sinks his hooks in deep enough to catch you by surprise, and then you just wait for him to reel you in. Once he does, it is so very worth it.
[Note: I received a copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]