By Linda Cargill.
When we meet The Surfer’s protagonist, Jessie Rogers, she is not in a good place. Her strict parents are going through a messy divorce and they are giving her a hard time about her lack of accomplishments; she enjoys being on the swimming team, but is an average competitor, and she is suffering from vivid, recurring nightmares about drowning. She escapes her troubles by spending time alone on Virginia Beach, staring out to sea. On one of these occasions, she witnesses a beautiful surfer get thrown from her board and, despite Jessie’s efforts to save her, the girl apparently drowns. Her closest friend, Nick Stieveson, sees this happen and is reminded of a terrifying family legend, which he recounts to Jessie. In his story, his Norwegian ancestor, Captain Olaf Stieveson, is bewitched into marrying a mysterious lady, Ingrid, who bears him a child. When Olaf realises his error, he tries to escape to Virginia Beach to unite with another woman he has impregnated, but Ingrid catches up with him, imprisons him in the crystal of her necklace and curses all future generations of the Stieveson family.
Nick’s parents return from a cruise with Marina, a beautiful girl who was dragged from the sea the night before and who, it is quickly established, is the same girl Jessie tried to save. Marina enchants almost everyone she meets, including Jessie who seemingly forgets the story Nick has told her. Marina takes Jessie under her wing, even becoming her swim coach, and Jessie flourishes under her tutelage. Nick, however, is convinced that the stranger is dangerous and, along with Jessie’s friends Tricia and Dot, he tries to work out why Marina is so interested in Jessie. But it becomes clear that Marina is determined to carry out her plan, whatever it may be, through to its successful completion, and she will let nothing, especially Nick, stand in her way.
The Surfer is consistently interesting, especially the fairy-tale-eqsue digression about Olaf and Ingrid. We can guess Marina’s true identity, but her motivations are a mystery until fairly late in the action, and it is an enjoyable build up to the revelation. It has a refreshingly different approach from most Point Horrors, and Jessie is even temporarily ‘lost’ to us when Nick’s POV takes over. This is unusual for a PH, which usually follows the action from one character’s perspective only, but it works really well here. It emphasises Jessie’s own detachment from reality whilst under Marina’s spell. That Jessie is so entranced by Marina is scary – we wonder who will win out, Marina or Nick. It is sometimes difficult to like Jessie, and often our sympathy lies with Nick. However, Linda Cargill seems to be aware of this, and it is Nick who most often finds himself in danger.
Despite the occasional sense of threat, there is not enough horror to make The Surfer a satisfyingly scary read. The final section, in particular, has a disappointing lack of tension. Whilst the twist is an interesting one, Jessie’s discovery of the truth could be more exciting. And the action which follows is merely a spiritless tying-up of loose ends. Nevertheless, The Surfer exceeds the low expectations I had based on its title, front page and blurb. It is a unique and memorable entry in the PH franchise.
Although an enjoyable read, The Surfer is unfortunately not very scary. Marina is creepy, especially when her façade slips, but we don’t see enough of her in Linda Cargill’s vague descriptions. More should be made of her being the monster of the piece. There is a Brothers Grimm-ish element of horror in the story of Olaf and Ingrid, which is never quite matched once we are back in the modern day. This is a real shame, as there is plenty of scope for some dark horror in the second half of the novel. Because this never materialises, we cannot help but feel slightly cheated, and The Surfer only musters a fear factor rating of…