Thursday, February 26, 2009

A menacing and atmospheric thriller!

Dark Gold by David Angsten

I love a good thriller, especially if it has an exotic location, a sunken treasure, sexy characters, and all kinds of menace. Dark Gold delivers all the above and more.

The story opens with three college grads, Jack, Rock, and Duff, about to embark on a world tour, a last hurrah before they have to get serious about real life. However, Jack's wandering older brother Dan has gone missing somewhere in Mexico. The last anyone has heard from him was an enigmatic postcard from Puerto Vallarta four months ago. So the three friends decide to start their trip in Mexico to hunt down Dan. As readers of The Ruins will attest, these quests never end well.

Early on, Jack has a scary encounter with a drug-dealing biker gang. No one will admit to knowing anything about Dan, but Jack does learn the name of a town that doesn't mean anything to him---Punta Perdida. None of the locals are willing to ferry Jack, Duff, and Rock there to investigate, for any price. But fate (and a beautiful woman) leads them to Leo Bellocheque, a wealthy Caribbean Islander with a million dollar yacht and a drop-dead gorgeous crew of two. Leo's intrigued by their story and offers them a lift.

Punta Perdida is a dangerous place. The local priest has been deafened and muted. Things aren't looking at all good for Dan. But Jack and his friends soon discover what enticed Dan to this desolate location; the lure of a fortune in sunken gold. Of course, in a place like Punta Perdida, you never know what else might be in the water...

I don't want to tell any more, because the joy of a novel like this is the plotting. The story is fast-paced and offered me big, gasp-out-loud surprises right up to the very end. There are definitely elements of the story that are familiar from many other books and films, but Angsten has done a great job making familiar thriller conventions seem fresh and new.

A big part of it is the writing, which is way above average. It's a pleasure to read a thriller with a nice turn of phrase and characters with real depth to them. I often felt a desire to learn more about these people and their back stories that wasn't always satisfied. You can't complain too loudly, though, about characters being overly interesting.

In the heading of this review I used the words menacing and atmospheric, which sound a lot better than creepy. But the truth of the matter is that Angsten creeped me out. Never has Mexico seemed more foreign or scarier. Seriously, I began to feel a little worried about my own friends down there! And just reading an underwater scene about something that's never seen during an early dive in the novel had the hair on the back of my neck standing up.

I read this book in two days. This is good and bad. I want more! I can't wait to see what Angsten comes up with next. What a great new discovery!

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