Fathomless (2016): 9 out of 10: by Greig Beck takes readers on a thrilling adventure revolving around the legendary Carcharodon Megalodon, the largest and most fearsome predator in history. The story begins in 1952 on Baranof Island in the Gulf of Alaska, where Jim Granger is on a quest to find a mythical place known as ‘Bad Water,’ rumored to house dangerous creatures. Jim soon discovers that the water demon is not just a legend, but a terrifying reality.
Fast forward to the present day, and Cate Granger, Jim’s granddaughter, is following in his footsteps. Leading a team of scientists and crew, Cate finds the “Dark Water”. Forces attempting to stop her expedition, however, inadvertently destroy it, unleashing a prehistoric creature into the modern oceans. The massive megalodon shark, driven by its instincts and genetic memory, embarks on a journey to reclaim its ancient home along the Californian coast. With the monster staking its claim on the world’s oceans, no one and nothing is safe above or below the water’s surface.
Cate and her team find themselves in a deadly battle against a relentless creature that surpasses any other predator, devoid of fear and considering humans as mere prey. In “Fathomless,” the world’s most formidable predator makes its triumphant return, and Cate and her team must summon all their skills and courage to confront the ultimate challenge. The stakes are high as they fight to protect humanity from the imminent threat posed by this ancient behemoth.
The Good: Overall Fathomless is very good. Much better than one would expect. It is extremely well written. Has well-drawn characters and an incredible scope. Author Greig Beck even throws in some light romance. It is not a steady ride, however.
I wavered a lot from four to five stars during the first half of Fathomless. The prologue sets up both our protagonists (megalodon, Cate Granger) perfectly. (five stars) Then we introduce a Russian billionaire and his impossible blonde Harvard educated Russian assistant turning this into a spy novel (four stars). Well, there is still no shark, but our impossible blonde Harvard educated Russian assistant has killed the Spetsnaz troops successfully torturing all the information she needs out of one of them (five stars). God, the comic relief characters are killing me. I hope Greg is eaten by the shark (four stars). OMG the shark finally showed up, and he ate Greg (five stars).
I can’t recall a villain I have wished dead more recently than Cate’s friend and coworker Greg. And Greg is not a villain. He is… well; he needed to be eaten, and he was. I’m rooting for the shark. In fact, the shark get his own internal monologue for a bit (I think I would love to read an entire book from the shark’s point of view) I am not to sure how accurate the shark’s ability to hear a human heartbeat in a cave in land is really, however.
Where Fathomless shines is in its scope. We have weapons of mass destruction. Child porn hidden on a laptop in Moscow. An unrequited affair between a coast guard pilot and her commanding officer. People being offered death or living in Albuquerque. It all eventually ties together.
Author Greig Beck easily could have made the whole book about exploring the underground sea. He instead created a much bigger canvas to work with. We are introduced to memorable characters and even antagonists with two-thirds of the book already completed.
And though it takes a little longer than a shark eats people book ought to, we have some very nice shark eats people scenes. I am reminded, in a complementary way, of the slow burn of ‘Salem’s Lot before King lets loose in the second half. And while Fathomless is not quite up to that standard. It comes close.
The Bad: “She hit the print button on her computer, sending the data to the printer.” If this was a one off or an occasional thing, I would not even notice. Author Greig Beck does this a lot in Fathomless. Already writers reading this (and certainly editors) are thinking just “She hit the print button” would be a good edit for this sentence.
Now I don’t mind descriptive sentences. Not every author has to be Hemingway. And every writer has their quirks. (Lord knows I have mine, like an overuse of ellipses). But Greig Beck’s occasional overwriting can be both exhausting and sometime unintentionally funny. This is more of a style issue than the author doing anything wrong, mind you. There is certainly a place for such prose and style, such as a dramatic or emotional moment. Less so during office work.
Greig Beck gets a dig in to man made climate change, which, per the afterword notes, he does not believe in. But it is brief and more of a humorous dig from the characters.
“I’m an idiot; I should have said we were going to explore the effects of climate change on newly discovered species.” She went to turn around, head back into his office,”
“Weird. He read the last paragraph where a meteorologist was blaming climate change. Jack snorted. Was anything not climate change’s fault these days?”
Plus, it was 2016 and perhaps his opinion has matured since then. I mean, my opinion certainly has matured since 10 May 2009 when I first published my rather snarky take on man made global warming and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young music.
Greig Beck also may not be the biggest fan of Greenpeace and thier ilk. This is a bigger issue in Fathomless. His version is called Earthpeace, and the author is more than a bit heavy-handed in his description of these idiots. I have often found it a stronger narrative when you allow your heroes to occasionally be stupid and have your villains occasionally be right. Loading the deck so overtly, even after the shark goes all munchies, seems a missed opportunity.
Plus, it seems out of place a smidge. Our heroes are sailing a Russian whaling ship to the California coast while dragging a twenty-foot minke whale carcass. You don’t have to be Greenpeace to find that sketchy and worth a look.
That said, the evil Earthpeace Captain Olander Blomgren does a double cross right at the end, so brilliant and diabolical I am surprised the Russians didn’t think of it themselves. Honestly, I was almost rooting for him after winning the prisoner’s dilemma with a megalodon and our heroes.
The Audible: People absolutely adore penguins. These waddling wonders of the animal kingdom have captured our hearts. First off, have you seen how they walk? It’s like they’re doing an undercover mission for the Ministry of Silly Walks! And let’s not forget their fashion sense—penguins rock that tuxedo look like they’re ready to hit the red carpet at any moment. Plus, their clumsy antics on land and their graceful dives into the water make them the class clowns of the animal world. Whether they’re sliding on their bellies like tiny black-and-white surfers or engaging in epic belly-flopping contests, penguins have perfected the art of making us burst into laughter. So, it’s no surprise that people are head over heels for these feathered comedians—after all, who wouldn’t want a dose of penguin-induced joy in their lives?
But there is one in this land who does not like penguins. One for whom the penguin is a force they cannot defeat or overcome. That person is the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. A long time ago Benedict was asked to do the narration on a nature documentary South Pacific for the BBC. In episode #5 Strange Islands, however, his nemesis the penguin appears. Benedict massacres the word penguin. I can hear you know oh come on Julian he is a professional actor with a Masters of arts from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. How bad could it be? I have included the video below.
The word penguin appears twice in Fathomless on pages 324 and 331. Narrator Sean Mangan handles the word like a pro.
crewmembers crowded around, all wearing the matching red hooded jackets with the Earthpeace muscled penguin logo on its breast. “What the hell is a fucking Russian whaler doing
“Not taking my calls.” He shrugged. “But think about it. We tell a boatload of penguin-huggers we’re about to put a harpoon into a giant prehistoric shark – the only one
Megalodon, on the other hand, appears 85 times. This is a piece of bad luck for Sean Mangan because he has no more an idea how to say megalodon than Benedict Cumberbatch has saying penguin. To Shaun’s slight defense, at least he is phonetically sounding out megalodon, as opposed to Cumberbatch’s penwings and penlings. Outside of that one issue, Sean Mangan seems game and does an excellent job. I would look forward to listening to an audiobook narrated by him again.
In Conclusion: Reading my notes on Fathomless, I really am surprised how touch and go I was during the first half of the book. Author Greig Beck eventually introduces some new fun characters. Kills off his comic relief and both the author and his protagonists seem to find their footing. I am still impressed by the scope of Fathomless. Beck clearly did his research and was not afraid to step out of his genre’s comfort zone.
There are more books by Greig Beck featuring Cate Granger, and I am looking forward to reading them. I assume the sequels take place in Albuquerque because how anyone is going to convince her to enter a body of water larger than a hot tub at this point is a mystery to me.