As a child my head was filled with the most fantastical fears; monsters under the bed, beasts lurking in the shadows, sharks in the swimming pool. As an adult the only fear I have left (aside from sharks in the swimming pool of course) is losing my loved ones. John Langan melds these two worlds, nightmarish monsters and the inevitable horror of loss, in his chilling second novel The Fisherman.
Langan’s novel is a slow burn tale of cosmic horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft. Told from the perspective of Abe, a man who lost his wife to cancer, The Fisherman revolves around a friendship forged from grief and, of all things, fishing. When Abe’s coworker, Dan, loses his wife and child in a car accident Abe steps in to help console him. The two commiserate over their loss and Abe shows Dan his secret coping skill – fishing.
Dan and Abe’s grief is palpable. Langan captures the essence of loss with heartbreaking deft. It runs deep through the novel and, just as in real life, finds new ways to rear its head when it is least expected. Their experiences are truly horrific but become bittersweet in the relationship they share as a result. As the two men work to put their lives back together, Langan repeatedly drops reminders that more horror is coming.
As the friends retreat further into the comfort of their shared grief and fishing expeditions they venture deeper and deeper into the wilderness of the Catskills Mountains. “When you turn off onto whatever secondary road you need to take, and you’re following its twists and turns back into the mountains, and the ground is steep to either side of you, opening every now and then on a meadow, or an old house, you think, ‘Here, there are secret places.” It is in these mountains that Abe and Dan learn of a fabled and secret fishing spot; the remote Dutchman’s Creek.
Early in the novel, long before it appears, the reader learns that Dutchman’s Creek is a place of darkness. “I know Dutchman’s Creek runs deep, much deeper than it could or should, and I don’t like to think what it’s full of.” Abe tells us. Abe often teases us with such Lovecraftian hints of strange creatures and horrors unknown. Any time the dramatic elements run on for a period of time Langan tosses lines like this to keep the reader afloat with promises of the supernatural. And it works. The tale of Dan and Abe is heartfelt enough to be a satisfying story, but the foreshadowing Langan employs keenly whets the appetite for horror fans.
When the supernatural horror does come, it doesn’t disappoint. Langan builds a mythology worthy of Lovecraft while remaining entirely his own. Strange figures with otherworldly knowledge, occult magic, and inhuman monsters inhabit a story within the story that alters both the framework of and the feel of the story in a literary master stroke. Langan captures the essence of what made Lovecraft so engrossing without the racism, superfluous prose, or overly vague, unknowable evil.
Nor is Langan’s tale mimicry. While the style and elements have a familiarity to them Langan breaks new ground with concepts and monsters that feel fresh and relevant. I am purposefully being vague here as part of the genius of Langan’s novel is the foreshadowing and the subsequent peeling of layers to reveal the truth of Dutchman’s Creek. Along with the pervasive sense of foreboding, The Fisherman is a constant tale of discovery. New twists and developments, both emotional and narrative, await the reader in every chapter.
One the onset of the novel we know the events of The Fisherman haunt the narrator and refuse to leave him. But, you wouldn’t expect that it does the same for the reader as well. The Fisherman was the 2016 the winner of The Bram Stoker Award. The novel can be purchased from Amazon or wherever books are sold. The audiobook is available from Audible.
This is an easy recommendation for all fans of horror. But it really appeal to those that enjoy: Lovecraft, occult horror, cosmic horror, slow burn, weird fiction… and frankly just good writing.