Book Review: Shark Beach by Chris Jameson
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (May 28, 2019)
Length: 320 pages
Author Information: Website
When it comes to books, most readers have a guilty pleasure read or particular genres they go to for pure escapism, and for me, it’s books like Shark Beach. Sometimes you just have to say screw it and indulge in a little fun every once in a while, whether it be a trashy romance, the fripperies of an angsty teen drama, or in my case, bloody shark porn. And what I like most about Chris Jameson’s shark books is that they somehow manage to perfectly straddle that fine line between the believable and the completely ludicrous.
Still, compared to the author’s previous books Shark Island and Devil Sharks, Shark Beach arguably does take things a little bit over the top, what with the secret government labs and genetically engineered sharks modified to have heightened aggression levels which are then inevitably unleashed upon the unsuspecting public. The story takes place on dreamy Captiva Island, located in Florida just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of its isolation and small size, it’s the perfect destination for tourists desiring a tropical vacation away from all the hustle and bustle, but of course, as the book starts with the news that a monster hurricane about to hit the gulf, the mood on the island is anything but peaceful.
Typical of most thrillers, Shark Beach bounces between a number of POVs, but its main focus is the Scully family—Rick and Corinne and their daughters Emma and Kelsey—along with their friends Matti and Jenn Hautala and their son Jesse. The two families have been close for years, with their kids practically having grown up as siblings, but only this spring have they all finally managed to get together to rent a vacation home on Captiva. As frequent visitors to the island, the Scullys are excited to show their friends what they love about the place, though that elation is somewhat dampened by Rick and Corrine’s troubled marriage, not to mention the looming threat of Hurricane Juliet, which may or may not make landfall in Florida. The governor has thus far only issued a voluntary evacuation order, which many vacationers are choosing to ignore for now, including the Scullys, the Hautalas, and the rowdy spring breakers in the beach house next door.
In the midst of all this uncertainty, the staff at a clandestine maritime research facility on neighboring Sanibel Island are doing their own fretting and prepping, taking steps to protect their top-secret work and the valuable contents in their massive state-of-the-art aquarium tanks. In case the hurricane does hit, they’ll need backup power and security on-site to make sure nothing will go wrong. They did not, however, consider the possibility that a security breach would occur within—a mistake that would later prove costly in both blood and human lives.
Like Jameson’s other shark novels, there’s plenty of shark action and all the horror and thrills you could hope for. After the missteps in Devil Sharks, I was also glad to see that Shark Beach returned to a more character-focused approach. As a result of the narrative limiting the number of people we followed, as well as the beefing up of relationship and personality development, I felt I was better able to engage with the characters and actually cared whether they survived or ended up being shark food.
Which brings me to the tension in this one, which was insane. Several times I practically had to restrain myself from committing the reader’s sin of skipping to the end of a page or chapter just to find out what happens in order to get some quick relief from the terror and suspense. In a word, the pacing and intensity of Shark Beach was relentless. Between the chaos of the hurricane and the awful dread of being out on the water, you could never predict what would happen or trust that anyone would be safe. Ironically, despite the ridiculous premise involving weaponized sharks, I also experienced a fear reading this one that I didn’t with Shark Island or Devil Sharks, probably because the others featured scenarios I felt far removed from. But at the center of this novel is an average family doing what all average families do when they are taking a beach vacation, which mostly involves being out on the water. In recent years, we’ve also witnessed the magnitude of destruction that powerful hurricanes can do to the area. In the blink of an eye, a sudden force of nature can turn paradise into a nightmare, and for some reason, the situation in the novel just felt too real for me. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be swimming in the ocean or getting into any small boats in the foreseeable future.
My only criticism is that the ending felt too abrupt. Jameson did a great job with characters in this one, but I also wished he had carried some of the ideas a little further. For example, what was the conflict that caused the falling out between Marianna, Simone, and Nadia? The story touched lightly upon this, but the question was never answered. And what happened to the relationship between the Scullys and the Hautalas in the end, given all that happened to the two families? Again, we are only left to speculate. I just think that if an author’s going to build up these little dramas, we should get some of them resolved.
Still, if you’re looking for your shark fiction fix this summer, these books can’t be beat when it comes to campy good fun. I hope Chris Jameson will keep them coming!