A cruise is supposed to a fun, relaxing, indulgent holiday experience. And for the passengers of the Beautiful Dreamer, the first three days are exactly that. Cocktails, long hours in the pool, and performances by a famous psychic medium, Celine del Ray, provide hundreds of pleasure-seekers with entertainment.
But then, on Day Four (the title of Sarah Lotz’s new thriller), the vessel inexplicably breaks down and the power fails. There is no way to call for help and the engineers can’t seem to fix the engines (though the cruise management hide these facts from the passengers). Initially, most passengers trust the problem will be sorted out quickly. But, then the food begins to rot, the sanitation systems fail, and the dreaded Norovirus breaks out on board. Passengers become angrier, more irrational, and violent as time goes by without answers or any apparent hope of rescue. In addition, a murdered passenger is discovered and Celine, an obvious fraud, suddenly begins to spew forth things she couldn’t possibly have picked up from cold cues or social media.
The story is told from six viewpoints: three crew members and three passengers. Devi is “The Keeper of Secrets” – a security guard and former policeman with a ‘shameful’ secret he wants no one to find out. Anthea is “The Devil’s Handmaiden” – a Latin American cleaner who ends up aiding an evil force. Jesse is “The Angel of Mercy” – the ship’s doctor who likes to dig deep into prescription drugs. Maddie is “The Witch’s Assistant” – the aide to Celine. The largely anonymous “Condemned Man” is a disgusting sexual predator whose modus operandi is to strike on cruise liners. Finally, two middle-aged women, Elise and Helen are “The Suicide Sisters” who had made a joint pact to kill themselves on the cruise by jumping overboard. There are also extracts from a blog written by a journalist who wants to expose Celine for the swindler she is.
This book is a sequel to Lotz’s popular The Three (read the review), though it’s not necessary to have read the latter before reading Day Four. This book, though, doesn’t have the same clever terror-factor as its predecessor. While it was entertaining enough and has a couple of scares, overall, Day Four barely made me feel uneasy, while The Three was downright menacing on a deeply psychological level.
Part of the problem is that there are too many characters. The Keeper of Secrets, Suicide Sisters and Angel of Mercy could easily have been cut, allowing for a better exploration of other key players and their experiences of the bizarre cruise-turned-nightmare. The denouement is kind of twisted and interesting, and I could imagine it being a smart end to a television series (this book could make for some fabulous small-screen entertainment if any producers are smart enough to do such an adaptation).
Lotz’s description of a cruise holiday (the mountains of cheap, carb-heavy food, expensive cocktails and stifling cabins), and particularly the over-enthusiastic, clown-like cruise director with his fake smile and put-on gaiety is humorously spot-on (having been on one such onerous cruise, I can attest to the veracity of her witty portrayals).
It’s a read that would have been tedious if it had been any longer than its 340 pages and it left me wanting something more punchy and high-concept.
“‘Are you here?’ she whispered. ‘Show yourself.’
A thump came from somewhere in the heart of the ship. She walked forward cautiously. Halfway down the corridor a door stood ajar. That shouldn’t happen. The doors were weighted to close unless they were hooked onto magnets. Holding her breath, she stepped inside it, waiting for her eyes to become accustomed to the murky light. A gush of fear filled her chest when she saw him. He was sitting in the corner, his knees up to his chest…
The fear drained away, replaced by relief. She wasn’t going loco. He was here. He was real. She approached him slowly. ‘How did you get in here? Where is your mother?’
With no warning, he jerked, uncurled his limbs, and flashed towards her on all fours like a spider. Too fast – no one should be able to move that fast. She screamed and leapt for the door, flailing out into the corridor. A giggle came from behind her. She spun. He was standing a few metres away from her, nearly outside the dead girl’s cabin.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Day Four is distributed in South Africa by Jonathan Ball Publishers.