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The Loch by Steve Alten

Loch Ness holds secrets, ancient and deadly. Does a monster inhabit its depths, or is it just myth? Why, after thousands of reported sightings and dozens of expeditions, is there still no hard evidence? Marine biologist Zachary Wallace knows, but the shock of his near-drowning as a child on Loch Ness have buried all memories of the incident. Now, a near-death experience suffered while on expedition in the Sargasso Sea has caused these long-forgotten memories to re-surface. Haunted by vivid night terrors, stricken by a sudden fear of the water, Zach finds he can no longer function as a scientist. Unable to cope, his career all but over, he stumbles down a path of self-destruction…until he receives contact from his estranged father…a man he has not seen since his parents’ divorced and he left Scotland as a boy. Angus Wallace, a wily Highlander who never worked an honest day in his life, is on trial for murdering his business partner. Only Zachary can prove his innocence – if he is innocent, but to do so means confronting the nightmare that nearly killed him seventeen years earlier.

I’ll admit it; I am a sucker for a good thriller. You just can’t beat the distractions of some non-stop action. I’ve read and reviewed some of Steve Alten’s books in the past, and the idea of a thriller with added monsters certainly appeals.

Zachary Wallace has left his old life behind. His unhappy childhood in the Highlands is a distant nightmare that he has done his best to forget. Events transpire against Zach to draw him home, back to his estranged father and the mysteries of Loch Ness. I warmed to Zach immediately, there is an inner strength that makes his character quite compelling.  He won’t let anything stand between him and uncovering the truth.

There has always been something mysterious and enigmatic about Loch Ness. Alten uses this to good effect and as the plot unfolds you start to realise that there is more to events than just monsters. There is a conspiracy that also needs to be untangled. Part legal drama, part monster movie, The Loch falls into the category of the slightly more outlandish thriller. There is plenty of verifiable fact (more on that in a minute), but there is also a nice vein of science fiction. This isn’t a real-world thriller, Alten has created something a bit more like an episode of The X Files.

For the most part I was entertained and I enjoyed the story. That said, I do have a few issues. One of the problems I often find with thrillers like this is that they have a tendency to have large chunks of info dumped in chapters. The Loch is sadly no exception. I can appreciate that a certain amount of scene setting is required in order to hook the reader’s attention, but I felt that this could be reigned in a little. For example, I now feel that I know far more about the migratory habits of eels and salmon than was necessary for the enjoyment of the book. Unfortunately I don’t really think this moved the plot forward in any meaningful way.

I have read elsewhere, in some other reviews, criticisms regarding the Scottish characters. Specifically there were issues with the idioms used.  Personally, this wasn’t a massive problem for me, but then in fairness I am Scottish so I suspect that may have been a distinct advantage in that area. I can imagine that readers unfamiliar with the subtleties of our often-flowery language may have a bit of trouble.

The only other thing that I really found off-putting is a technical issue with the printing in the book. There is a font that is used in some of the chapters detailing the journey taken by one of Zach’s ancient ancestors. I don’t think that worked well at all. It is quite difficult to read making it a bit painful to muddle through.

Yes, I have some issues with The Loch, but as I said earlier, there is also plenty that I enjoyed. Zach’s father, Angus, is a quite the creation. Always on the look out to spin any situation to his own advantage Angus is the living personification of the canny Scot. The constant bickering back and forth between father and son was also a highlight. I also liked trying to spot who was going to be dispatched next. Naturally I had a soft spot for the locations in the book. I got positively misty-eyed when reading some of the history of my home country. Alten’s writing does excel when he is describing the various locales.

I think you have to view books like The Loch as the literary equivalent of a solid B-movie. No, this book isn’t going to change your life, but given the chance it will definitely entertain. Over the last couple of weeks I have read a couple of books that were exceptionally good, but quite heavy content-wise. The Loch was the perfect antidote to these. Overall, The Loch is a fun read. It’s not quite up there with the unbridled mayhem that is Meg* but I have read far, far worse. The interesting thing now is that both books, The Loch and Meg, are now being brought together. Steve Alten’s next, Vostok, will act as a sequel to The Loch, and a prequel to the next book in the Meg series, Nightstalkers . I’ll be curious to see how that pans out as I’ll be reading this next.

The Loch is published by Tor and is available now.

*Still my favourite Steve Alten novel. I live in hope the rumoured movie version will appear eventually.

The Loch

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