When I think about great sea monster books, JAWS tops my list. How could I forget that iconic cover, the tiny beautiful swimmer at the surface, and that enormous saw-toothed mouth coming up from the depths? The ultimate killer shark story might have become famous as a summer blockbuster, but it started as a dog-eared copy in someone’s beachbag.
One look at the cover of Ryan Lockwood’s BELOW, and you know what kind of read you’re about to have.
The blocky print, the tiny object at the surface, and the partial view of a huge creature rising from the deep all scream “I really want you to think about JAWS when you’re shopping on Amazon and see my thumbnail.” And I totally did. So I bought it.
Ryan Lockwood’s 2013 debut horror novel tells the story of a nasty group of squid that develop a taste for human flesh. Our hero, a worn out dive master, enlists the help of a sexy marine biologist who will help him put an end to the carnage. A blood bath ensues, as well as love, sweet love, between the two protagonists.
You’re probably thinking the squid looks something like this.
And you would be wrong.
The rest of you are imagining something like this.
The squid in this book come from real life, the giant Humboldt squid that sometimes reach a length of seven feet and travel in shoals of over a thousand in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.
Yes, this smallish Humboldt squid looks like it’s eating this diver’s arm, but sadly, no. In reality, Humboldt Squid don’t attack people. Much. At least there aren’t any confirmed deaths. Probably. Divers like this dude wear chain mail to swim with them, mostly because their tentacles are lined with teeth and their sharp parrot-like beaks have been known to take off fingers. But they’re harmless. Really.
When it comes to monster makers, nothing beats mother nature.
Imagine if a thousand of squid this size and bigger, all traveling together in a big icky clump, all went insane for some reason (no spoilers) and wanted to eat divers, attractive partiers unlucky enough to skinny dip off a yacht at night, and a very likeable marathon swimmer we get to know for only one chapter. That is the thrill ride of BELOW, and I recommend picking it up if you’d like to know the creepy and plausible scientific reason behind the carnage.
But why did I bother with a book when I could be terrified by the same story in a film? Open Water, The Reef, and hundred of other movies require a much shorter time commitment. And I’m kinda busy.
One reason is point of view. On the screen, you can see the monster, and you’ll even get the famous point of view shot from the monster’s perspective, but you don’t get a scene from the emotional POV of the monster. Imagine if you tried. As the shark from JAWS approaches his victim, a voice over tells us, “This kid tastes like chicken…”
Well, that’s just silly. But the scenes from BELOW in the POV of the big bad are sort of fascinating. The queen of the shoal thinks mostly about being hungry and confused, but still, it freaked me out.
But is that enough to make the time commitment jump from two hours to twenty?
True, the written word can’t give you the collective scream experience of the theater. But there’s something about a good monster book, like JAWS or BELOW, that takes away the distance between you and the characters. You’re not watching the swimmer on the screen. You are the swimmer, taking her last breath, before she’s dragged under.
So if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush that stays awhile, skip the theater, crack open Lockwood’s BELOW, and order a big, tasty plate of fried calamari on the side. I can’t promise you’ll finish your food, but I’m pretty sure the book will keep you turning pages until the horrifying end.