It’s common knowledge that a full moon brings out the crazies, but in Harperville, a small town with big secrets, it seems to be the fog. Thick, dense, ocean-smelling fog that calls to the cultists, damp and sullen fog that covers people’s minds and memories as well as it hides the streets at night or muffles the sounds of footsteps making their way up the stairs. For Levi Earlington, the new homicide detective, there seems to be no end to Harperville’s secrets. Having moved from Florida — which has its own share of the silly and strange — Levi expects Harperville to be an easy job. It’s a quiet town where he and his wife can raise their daughter, where they can settle down and be part of a community.
Then the murders begin. Bodies washed ashore with strange marks carved into them, bodies torn apart and half-devoured. But no one has reported missing bodies, no one has called the police station, and no one seems to care. A woman bashes her head into a wall, killing herself; high school students try to kill one another at lunch before falling, en masse, unconscious, rising moments later with no memory of what happened, of what they did or why there is so much blood.
There’s a common thread in all of these incidents: Queenie Lowe, daughter of the previous homicide detective. She is a small, quiet girl whose loneliness and fear tug at Levi’s heartstrings. A girl he may not be in time to save …
Off the Deep End is the first book in the Harperville Horrors series and contains many classic horror elements, as well as a great deal of gore, drawing heavily on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. The ocean, the fog, the omnipresent threat of the unknown, and characters who teeter between madness and sanity. Queenie, a pansexual high schooler recovering from an eating disorder, is dealing with a heavy load of anger, stress, and trauma. Her father is dead, her mother avoids her, and her grandmother has dementia. Her friends barely tolerate one another, and she knows that if they knew how she truly felt, how empty and lonely and angry she is, they might not want to be her friends anymore.
So Queenie puts on a smile. She laughs. She jokes. She packs away everything that upsets her and puts it on a shelf and goes through life like an average, happy teenager. Until she meets Lulu. Lulu just moved in next door. She’s friendly, sly, a patient listener, and .. she’s new. She doesn’t have any preconceptions about Queenie. She doesn’t mind when Queenie’s smile falls off, when she needs to be angry, to vent about how her mother has pushed her out of her life, or to be sad about her grandmother. And Queenie isn’t blind to Lulu’s smile, the color of her eyes, or how the touch of her hand makes Queenie’s heart race.
When things start to get weird, Lulu is there for Queenie. And yet, when it starts to occur to her that things didn’t get weird until Lulu arrived, Queenie finds herself turning to the one person she never thought she would: a cop. Levi is patient, gentle, and unfailingly honest. He believes her when she tells him what she’s seen … because he’s seen it, too. When Queenie hears him talk about his daughter, she gets a glimpse of what a father and daughter bond ought to be. Not what she had with her own father, but what she wishes she’d had.
This story isn’t so much about the romance — though the ghost of it is there — as much as it is the growing bond between Queenie and Levi, the slow building of trust, and Queenie’s desire for a father figure. It’s also a book with a lot of adverbs and stilted, awkward writing. People pivot away from tables and slither down hallways. Instead of green eyes, they have green orbs that glow with whimsy. (There are a lot of orbs and a lot of pivoting.) There are a handful of malapropisms: peeked instead of piqued, smelt instead of smelled; someone tosses a spoon into her mouth. It’s very much a style choice that readers will either enjoy … or not. There is also a lot of telling, leaving no need to guess what a character is thinking, feeling, or about to do, but as the main characters are teenagers and the story feels more aimed at a YA audience, the overwrought and often breathless writing style feels somewhat appropriate.
The idea is interesting enough and the horror elements are strong enough that I’m interested in seeing the next book in the series. But if you’re not into horror, this book may not be your cup of tea.