There are two kinds of Charles Williams novels. The first is a sharp descent into the dark depths of the human soul. The second is just about the same… but it takes place on a boat. Williams, a former U.S. Merchant Marine, set a lot of his books on the high seas. And I could name several favorites from his backlist, but at the top of the list is Dead Calm.
Rae and Ingram, a newly-married couple, are traveling the seas for their honeymoon and come upon a sinking boat. There’s a handsome young man named Warriner on board, who claims the rest of the crew died of food poisoning. They bring Warriner aboard their boat, but quickly find that he’s deranged.
Warriner takes off with the couple’s boat, kidnapping Rae and stranding Ingram on the sinking vessel. The narrative switches between Rae and Ingram as they try to figure out how to stop Warriner and reunite. Back in the 1960s, when the book was written, and well before cell phones, two boats finding each other on the open ocean was not an easy task. The suspense ratchets up, becoming nearly unbearable, until you get to an ending that makes you want to stand up and cheer.
Charles Williams is a master of the noir genre — and you might even learn a little about sailing along the way. If you’re a fan of Jim Thompson or Cornell Woolrich, then Williams should be high on your to-read list. In addition to Dead Calm, Scorpion Reef and The Hot Spot are also sure bets.
Rob Hart is the associate publisher for MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. He’s the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella, and his short stories have appeared in publications like Thuglit, Needle, and Helix Literary Magazine. His debut novel, New Yorked, will be released in June 2015. You can find his website at robwhart.com.