Just when you thought it was safe to go for a swim, Chris Jameson returns with another shark themed horror standalone following last year's release of Shark Island. Packed with plenty of summertime thrills, Devil Sharks would be a perfect beach-read if only Jameson didn't make you deathly afraid of being so close to the water.
Here, a group of now-distant college buddies meet up in Hawaii for a reunion. Invited by their former classmate Harry, now an uber-rich businessman, the group and their spouses expect to enjoy a few days of sun and surf aboard a luxury sailing yacht. After visiting the abandoned Coast Guard station where Harry's father once served, the group find themselves adrift off an atoll and at the mercy of drug runners using the old building as a base. Surrounding the atoll are sharks - sharks the pirates have been routinely feeding humans to, and who have since developed a lust for the taste of landlubbers.
Devil Sharks is, first and foremost, a work of survival horror. Things get off to a bit of a slow start as Jameson lays the groundwork on who his characters are and explores their relationships to one another, but once this book kicks into high gear, good lord this sucker is frenetic.
Jameson takes our cast, a wonderfully diverse group fronted by Alex and his wife Sammi, and puts them into one deathly encounter after another. As I said, this is a book about survival, and Jameson puts a ton of obstacles in the cast's way. Much like the pirates, Jameson is a take-no-prisoners type of author, and Devil Sharks takes some shockingly bleak turns. I will say, though, that I was a tiny bit disappointed by the somewhat ancillary nature of the pirates, but I get what the author was going for with them. They're certainly capable and loathsome antagonists, but ones that exist largely as a plot device to kick the story's central hook into focus.
Devil Sharks is not a Die Hard riff of Alex versus hardcore killers - although I thought for a moment that's where Jameson was headed - but a story of your common Everyman characters against the impossible odds of hungry, man-eating sharks. We're here for the sharks, first and foremost, and the pirates are a way of getting us there, even if their presence makes the story feel slightly unbalanced as a whole. While some of the story threads are left unresolved (but hey, c'est la vie!), their purpose in serving the plot is largely secondary; they're an appetizer to the main course. Devil Sharks is, naturally, all about the sharks - that's what we're here for! We want the threatening promise of fins in the water and lots of toothy shark carnage! And hoo boy, Jameson doesn't play any games on that front. In fact, Jameson proves to be just as bloodthirsty and merciless as his oceanic apex predators. Things get brutal quick.
The last half of Devil Sharks is absolutely fraught with tension and horrifying encounters. Once the action gets going, this book is impossible to set aside and I spent much of this book with my stomach churning like the frothy blood-red waters Jameson continually chummed. If you're looking for some wonderfully grisly and violent encounters with killer chondrichthyes, Devil Sharks viciously and unrelentingly delivers. Grab a beer and a blanket and hit up the beach with this one, but maybe take a moment to consider how badly you want to go for a swim and wonder, if only for a second or two, if you might become fish food.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher, St. Martin's, via NetGalley.]
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