By Greg Herren
Available now from Bold Strokes Books
I was looking for summery books to read when DARK TIDE caught my eye. It promised a lifeguard, a small Alabama town with secrets, and a mysterious disappearance. Ricky Hackworth is off to earn some money in his last summer before college. He could really use it, even with his scholarship to swim for the Crimson Tide.
He's suspiciously similar to the lifeguard before him, down to the scholarship. But the lifeguard before him walked to town on a rainy day and was never seen again. Many of the townspeople warn Ricky away, lest the same happen to him. But he's drawn to certain people, and refuses to leave.
DARK TIDE deploys some excellent twists. They're unexpected, recontextualize everything that's happened in the book to that point, and still make sense with the characters. Ricky seems like a pretty straightforward guy (sweet, athletic, gay), but there's definitely a brain clicking away beneath the brawn. As the cliche goes, not just a pretty face. There's nothing that doesn't convince him more to find out what happened to his predecessor.
DARK TIDE is very short. I felt like the denouement in particular could've been much longer - everything wraps up pretty neatly in a single chapter. There's a great deal of atmosphere building, and then the mystery unravels with a snap of the fingers instead of being slowly teased out. (Although given the truth, I'm actually somewhat relieved that Herren didn't linger on it longer.) Anyway, it took me about half an hour to read DARK TIDE, which is fine for a by-the-pool read. I don't want to say it needed to be much longer, because I liked that DARK TIDE was streamlined, but I just think the end needed a little more meat.
This small-town mystery was a nice change of pace for me. I really liked Ricky, who was wonderfully developed throughout the novel. I'm not a swimmer, but the detail that went into the swimming and what Ricky needed to do to stay in competitive shape added nice flavor to the text. (However, Ricky seems to spend very little time actually doing his job.) There is no romance, but there are some romantic elements that add to the tragedy of Latona's secrets. I highly recommend DARK TIDE to anyone looking for a quick summer mystery.