Pressure by Betsy Reavley – Review

The Book:

When the submarine departed, none of the ten people on board knew it would turn into a nightmare.

Trapped on the sunken vessel on the bottom of the ocean and unable to escape, one of them is discovered dead. The tension escalates as the survivors realise there is a murderer among them, who is preparing to strike again and again…

With mounting desperation, people begin to turn on each other. While they struggle to identify who is responsible, each must contend with their own past, the claustrophobia and the secrets they are hiding.

But who is who?  And which of them will be next to die?

Below the surface, the pressure is building and time is running out…

My Review:

This is my first Betsy Reavley novel and Pressure is one hell of an introduction to her work.

The basic premise of Pressure is a variation on the ‘trapped together, one of us is a murderer’ type. The novel succeeds in immersing the reader in a too-tight setting, conveying very realistically the confines of both the submarine and the options available to its characters. In some parts the novel feels like an old siege movie in the ilk of Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, in that the overwhelming inability to leave, to even breathe, is ever-present for the characters and the reader.

Where Reavley’s novel differs, is in Pressure, the enemy is very much within, with the multiple threats of oxygen deprivation, close quarters and a murderer pressing in on the cast from all sides at all times. For me, the novel smacked of very modern, snarky slasher movies, isolated, alone, being hunted, but displayed all the char also of an old fashioned, set-in-a-manor whodunit.

The plotting is excellent and the pacing spot-on. A deep sense of foreboding and growing peril permeates the entire novel. Where Reavley excels though, is in her characterisation and the manner in which she conveys her characters emotions, virtues, flaws, vulnerability and cruelty.

Infinitely complex and viscerally-authentic, Reavley characters are fucked-up, heroic, cowardly and complex. Reavley’s use of shifting POV and narrative styles is skilfully-utilised and gave true life to the characters.

The POV shifts continuously, rotating through more than a few persons. I’m rarely a fan of this type of POV shifting, but Reavley has succeeded in altering the POV from person to person, whilst still maintaining the relentless flow and forward momentum of the narrative. This is not an easy thing to do, but when it works, Christ it really works, and Reavley utilized this device perfectly, bringing a tangible sense of immersion, unstoppable forward-momentum and augmented tension.

The shifting POV also served to heighten the impact of the roulette wheel of who the reader has deduced is the killer.

Reavley also plays around with her narrative style; switching between first-person, past tense and present tense to differentiate the flashbacks from the main narrative.

This also worked well and kept the separate sections distinct for the reader.

The highlight of the book for me was the sections placed throughout told form the POV of The Child. Extremely dark, gruelling really, these short interludes acted as intermezzi and demonstrated the depth of the author’s understanding of human suffering and our capacity for foulness and endurance. I wanted more of The Child, but also dreaded having to return to their pitiable world. These Interludes, for me, elevate Pressure, taking a good read and converting it into a great one.

Containing elements of a Thriller, at times dabbling into Horror, Pressure is an uncomfortable read, but hugely entertaining, which is a bit fucked up and entirely magnificent.  

Pressure is available now at Amazon and from Bloodhound Books.

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