Sarah Lotz made a huge splash last year with her superb globe-hopping mystery chiller The Three. Her follow-up, Day Four, stays in the same world as that novel, but focuses on a single cruise liner in the Gulf Of Mexico.
The setting is nightmarish enough already; a singles cruise on a ship that’s seen much better days. Enforced cheeriness and a seemingly endless supply of alcohol keep the guests happy (or drunk) while the exhausted staff clean up around them. When the ship’s engines break down, tempers start to fray. The food starts running out, the toilets stop working and the flu starts spreading, and people begin to snap. But what’s really going on aboard the Beautiful Dreamer?
Day Four isn’t a direct sequel to The Three, although it does take place in the same universe. While it’s more limited in scope and more of a straightforward horror story than that book, fans will definitely enjoy this, as Lotz uses a similar structure to expertly introduce us to a range of characters, all trapped in an increasingly hellish environment.
The passengers, including a suicidal pair of elderly ladies, a vindictive blogger, the notorious psychic he’s targeting and her frazzled assistant, find themselves clinging to civilised behaviour as much as the hope of rescue, while the staff, who each have their own dark secrets, are just as confused about what’s going on.
Each of these characters make an impact, as Lotz shows what led them here and makes sure we’re totally invested in what will happen to them as the situation worsens.
It happens quickly. The novel drops regular hints that something supernatural is going on, as psychic Celine De Ray suddenly alters her behaviour to attract as many acolytes as possible, while spirits are seen around the ship and all contact with the outside world is lost completely. It’s the all-too-plausible way in which the passengers make life worse for themselves, however, that’s most compelling.
While the variety of characters with various triggers, tempers and breaking points recall the easily riled townspeople of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot or Under The Dome, there are definitely elements of JG Ballard’s High-Rise in their increasing brutality. For the most part, Lotz keeps the more animalistic behaviour on the sidelines until the novel’s final chapters, with the exception of a murderer who starts to snap when he realises there’s no escaping from the scene of his crime.
There are those we want to see make it off the Beautiful Dreamer alive and well, and those who certainly deserve whatever terrible fate is waiting to befall them. The why of what’s happening fades into the background as Lotz places us with her characters in the stinking, sweating corridors of the stranded boat and unfolds this gripping nightmare. Although the payoff might not quite match what came before it, it’s certainly strong enough to make you sad about the fact that the book’s over.
Day Four is creepy, skin-crawling and compulsive reading. You won’t get much sleep until it’s done.