Review: “The Black,” Paul E. Cooley

Pros: Good female character; fascinating backdrop; scary enemy
Cons: That good ol’ “Chekhov’s Gun” problem
Rating: 4 out of 5

In Paul E. Cooley’s The Black: A Deep Sea Thriller, a team with new and advanced equipment heads off to an oil rig to help make what could be a historic discovery of a huge source of undersea oil. What they pull up looks like some of the best crude ever seen, but it has some strange properties that frighten the geologist, Shawna Sigler. She and her colleagues dutifully fill up barrels of the material to ship back to shore, where they have more tests they can run. Unfortunately that ‘oil’ isn’t really oil–it’s some sort of deadly organism. The death toll rises quickly, and it remains to be seen whether anyone at all on the rig will survive.

 

First, I loved Shawna as a character. Okay, so she was the only female, but she represented well. No idiotic passive-agressiveness. No falling in love with some charming character, no threat of rape from anyone; she also doesn’t need the help of others in order to do her job well (until the world goes crazy, but that’s normal). Thank you, Mr. Cooley!

There is one “Chekhov’s Gun” problem: one of the characters brought a spear-gun to fish while out there. Unless I blinked and missed it (not wholly impossible), that weapon never gets mentioned again, even though a big deal was made out of it at first.

For the most part I find all of the characters interesting. I did have trouble with one characterization, though. I know it’s a great skill as a writer to find a shortcut that allows you to convey a character’s personality quickly. However, the use of a cigar and some single malt is overused as shortcuts go. On the other hand, the tech who obsessively uses his vape worked beautifully since it’s relatively new.

The author cleverly weaves information throughout the narrative so you never feel like you’re being lectured at or subjected to a scene-breaking infodump.

SPOILER WARNING (small one): One of the properties of the non-oil is that it leaves behind extremely clean but extremely brittle (sort of) metal. The characters accidentally discover that if you hit that metal with something also metallic the metal will crumble. If you hit it with any other kind of material it’s fine. This discovery seems to get ignored later in the story in some instances where I’m pretty sure metal came in contact with the brittle metal, but nothing happens. (Edited to add: it never really shows up again in book two, either; probably a forgotten thread. END SPOILER WARNING

I find it easy to imagine this tale as a horror movie. It feels cinematic, and gave me a very clear image of what was going on. Despite the issues named above, I was glued to the pages to find out what happened next. The monster is also extremely scary in terms of how it handles people.

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