Book Review: North Sea Hunters by Brad Harmer-Barnes

NSHCoverWelcome, one and all, to another MDM Projects book review. Today’s post is a Halloween themed book review! Today, we’re looking at a monster grounded in reality: a giant shark. This of course means that we’re diving into the recent horror release, North Sea Hunters by Brad Harmer-Barnes. By way of disclosure, this was a book that I bought myself.

Background: Brad Harmer-Barnes is a British horror author. Outside novels, he both runs the Suppressing Fire pulp gaming blog and hosts Brick Fury on the site’s YouTube channel. He is a founding member and contributor to the nostalgia tinged geeky blog site, Emotionally Fourteen, and is a regular guest on their The Crazy Train podcast. Oh, and he’s also a former stand-up comic that ran the Rock N Rant comedy club in his local area.

North Sea Hunters is Brad’s debut novel and was released by Severed Press on June 29th 2017. Set during the early years of World War 2, the story follows the crew of a German U-616 submarine as they patrol the North Sea. Here, they rescue the sole survivor of a sinking ship, only to find his story to be rather unbelievable: a shark – far too big to be any known living species – hunted his vessel for days, then tore its way straight through the hull …

The Good: I want to start by talking about the cast here, and in particular our main protagonist, Captain August Krauser. You see, Nazi’s are hardly popular, so using members of the German Army in a World War II setting may lead some to believe that our heroes are going to be an unlikable bunch. What you have to remember though is that the political climate during this time was such that not all members of the army agreed with the views of their country’s leader. Captain Krauser certainly doesn’t, but he is well aware what his job entails. This is a position that many would have found themselves in at the time, and playing the story out from this viewpoint certainly makes for an interesting read. So, while Captain Krauser is tasked with sinking ships, he is not heartless. He doesn’t like the choices he has to make, and goes out of his way to try to save survivors, even if they aren’t fighting for his side. He has a wife, and a child on the way. In other words, he’s a human who is in an unfortunate position. Brad’s writing does a very good job of conveying this, and Captain Krauser comes across as a very real, not to mention genuinely likable, lead.

This can generally be extended to the other members of the cast too. While one member of the U-616’s crew is said to be a supporter of Hitler, there is actually very little talk of this side of things. The book is about people, not political beliefs, and as a result, you do feel like you want to get behind them as they tackle their oversized adversary.

Speaking of which, the shark surprised me. Honestly, I’m so used to the idea of gargantuan critters being either alien in nature or the result of some sort of mutation, that the idea of the creature being a prehistoric survivor caught me off guard. While slightly (and I do mean slightly) bigger than those that we’ve found in fossil form, knowing that we’re dealing with something that did actually exist makes the monster that little bit scarier. And believe me, the damage that this thing can do really is scary. From ships to people, it shreds and tears its way through the book with a ravenous hunger that is seemingly endless.

Does this all sound a bit B-Movie? Well, it is, to a degree. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re getting the shark equivalent of Lavalantula though. Brad has created a tale that fits within the B-Movie market while remaining a serious piece of horror. There aren’t any bad jokes, and it isn’t a pit of endless clichés. No, the book is described as Jaws meets Das Boot for a reason. That being said, the premise isn’t one that necessarily lends itself to being a Stephen King’s IT length tome. Thankfully, Brad was clearly aware of this and has instead served up a fast-paced read that sits just below 100 pages in length. What this means is that the book does exactly what it needs to without trying to stretch things out unnecessarily. Restraint is a positive.

The Bad: In terms of content warning, the story is about a giant shark eating people. If you don’t expect at least some blood or violence, then you may be surprised. Also, if you don’t feel that you can read a story about people fighting on the side of the Nazi’s, regardless of their own personal beliefs, you may want to give it a miss. From a personal standpoint, I maintain that the characters come across as very likable, and I would say that the book could have probably been grislier without ruffling too many feathers, so take that as you will.

When it comes to actual criticisms, I did have one minor niggle. As the tale progresses, we learn that the shark is around thirty metres in length. This, in itself, is fine. Like I said, it’s slightly bigger than any recorded fossil that I could find information for, but that’s not an issue. This is fiction, and a slight increase in size isn’t a big deal. My issue was that, after seeing how big the shark was, Captain Krauser acknowledges the size of the thing and expresses his surprise. Later on, he does so again. Later still, he does so a third time. In both the last two incidences, very similar phrasing is used too. Yes, it’s a little nit-picky, but the repetition felt unnecessary to me. It is something that only happens a few times though, so it certainly isn’t a major flaw, and I’m sure many others won’t be bothered by it.

Final View: North Sea Hunters is a quick, action packed read that grows beyond its B-Movie premise and becomes something that should appeal to most fans of monster-based horror. It’s entertaining, features a decent cast, and leaves you on a satisfying ending. This is a strong debut from Brad Harmer-Barnes, and I’m looking forward to his next piece.

Final Score: 4.5 / 5

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