Synopsis: The eight man crewed schooner, the Albin Grau is on a return voyage to England, when they spot another ship far behind. This ship appears to have no sails, yet not only does it seem to catch up with the Albin Grau, it sometimes seems to change course.
A decision is made to board the ship and when it's determined there is no crew, it is tethered by rope to be taken in as salvage. This course of action will have dire consequences, for the other ship isn't quite as uninhabited as it would seem. And when darkness falls...
Neil Williams has written what I believe is his first published novella and he describes himself as a novice, yet you would not think it upon reading this story. It's a wonderfully conceived piece of work which recalls The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and the sad fate of the Demeter from Dracula. The prose is damn near perfect and clearly brings to life the sense of the open ocean. Told from the point of view of one of the crew members (I must confess, I forget his name and I don't have access to my copy...), the story opens many years after the main event where this grizzled former sailor stops an unnamed listener to tell his tale, much like Coleridge's Mariner. We are then quickly plunged into the ill-fated voyage as they come into contact with The Derelict.
There's a lot of description as regards fo'c'sles, mainsails and so on, but you never feel overwhelmed by the nautical knowledge on display. And it's really just scene setting for the main event, as we are given subtle, ominous hints at what may or may not exist on the seemingly empty ship when a number of Albin Grau's crew (including the narrator) set foot on board the other ship to search it. However, instead of the very slow build up I subsequently expected, Williams confounds expectations by giving a dark-enshrouded but full look at his antagonist. I must say, it took me by surprise and is a very well realised scene which sent genuine shivers up and down my back. Without spoiling the story too much, the physical appearance of his 'monster' is quite unique and carries a solid believability that takes the novella to a new level. As good as the opening pages are, this pivotal scene is the equivalent of poking the reader with a stick.
Thereafter, the short book deals with the crew's initial encounter with this creature and their subsequent actions.
It really is a great little story and my one criticism is that it's over far too quickly. I was right there, every step of the way and I can easily see this making a good horror film. There's enough here to satisfy, yet there's also hints and unanswered questions that leave it open, if not exactly for sequel, then at least further exploration of the mythology that's been invented.
I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a good sea-going story, but that doesn't mean I'm a pushover. The Derelict, however, hits all the right notes and it's imagery will stay with you long after you finish it. Another good novella from Pendragon Press. I should also note that Williams created the cover for the novella as well and has done a really good job with this.
A kindle version will be available from 31 Oct 2014