Dark power of the sea runs through stories
The sea is a cruel master. And Dominic Morgan, who has spent much of his life doing battle with it, as a yacht captain and commercial fisherman, explores its dark power in this tautly written collection of short stories with endings which pull you up short.
Protagonist Silas Murphy is a man of a few, terse words. In the first story, Backline, he's earning his living hauling crab pots. He doesn't like his captain, Calum ("Bastard's never late."). They set off one morning early, the boat loaded with boxes of "frames", fisherman's parlance for fish skeletons with tail and head attached, and motor out to sea while it is still dark.
Calum fries egg and bacon, which they eat in silence as the boat starts to pitch and roll. There is tension, not just because the two men don't get on, but because of the danger of their work – the moment of letting down or hauling up crab pots is the most dangerous.
"Death comes quickly at sea," notes Silas. "He's always in the shadows. Watching. Waiting for a little mistake. An oversight. A psycho cousin that won't go away."
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In the event, death is not lying in wait for them this day. But a sobering sight greets them when they haul up their pots from the deep.
These stories have the tang of the sea about them, and conjure the atmosphere of the life lived by the drifters which the sea attracts, in pubs, onboard boats in harbours, in Mallorca, the West Indies, on the River Hamble which leads on to the Solent. Some pretty strange things happen in this world, as people collide with others' lives, then disappear again, just like ships that pass in the night.
It is a life that the author obviously knows well – apart from the very last story, they are all based on his life. Now living in Chagford on Dartmoor with his two young children, and gundog Finian, one of the stories – Riptide – is an account of the break-up of his marriage. It is one of the few stories which is set totally on dry land, albeit with many references to the sea. The riptide is his analogy for catastrophe which comes out of the blue, in his case his wife telling him it is all over. And the only way to deal with them, like with a riptide, is not to fight against it, but to swim across the current instead.
A promising first collection of stories, this book will interest anyone who is drawn to the sea.
Backline and Other Stories, by Dominic Morgan, is published by United PC, priced £13.30. Available online from Amazon and to order from bookshops.