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Saturday, 5 March 2022

‘Emergency Drill’ by Chris Blackwater

Published by Dark Edge Press,
23 February 2022.
ISBN: 979-877183658-4

'The wind’s too strong and there’s way too much swell out there.  You’re on your own mate.

Danny Verity is about to take up his new role as medic on board the Cuillin Alpha oil rig located in the inhospitable waters of the North Sea.  The former military police officer has only recently completed his training, and this is his first assignment.  At the end of two hair-raising flights through the storm-ridden Scottish skies he receives the briefest of handovers from the B-shift medic who mentions a recent “near-miss.”  He barely has time to register this ominous information before a small explosion plunges the rig into near darkness.  The outage affects communications, and a crewman hit by debris sustains severe injuries.  Danny knows that the casualty requires hospitalisation, but the ongoing tempest makes an airlift impossible.  With precious little in the way of medical equipment, the new team member attempts to save his ailing colleague, all the time being scrutinized by the unwelcoming crew.  And this is just the first of a series of calamities that befall the Cuillin Alpha’s workforce.  The atmosphere on the isolated platform soon becomes febrile.  Rumours of sabotage and mutiny begin to circulate.  Everyone is a suspect, no one can escape.  

Most of the platform’s crew, at least initially, prove to be dour, gruff, and solitary souls - hardly surprising given their working conditions.  As the narrative develops, though, the author reveals their characters more fully and I enjoyed getting to know them better.  The story is told entirely through Danny’s viewpoint, and, from the beginning, his anxieties, expectations, and flaws are there for all to see.  This makes him easy to like, as does his dry humour which provides some respite from the gritty plot and relentless acceleration of the unfolding drama.  The demanding occupations of those retrieving oil from the depths of the ocean, their alien workplace and unfamiliar vocabulary are deftly explained and prove to be fascinating.

Emergency Drill was shortlisted for the 2020 Crime Writers Associate Debut Dagger award and it more than lives up to this accolade. Chris Blackwater has delivered a first novel that is written with skill and insight.  It explodes into action on page one and gathers momentum until the final, breath-taking dénouement.  He builds up pressure and manages to sustain it in a setting that is unfamiliar and confined.  A thriller in every sense, tense, unpredictable, adventurous, and outrageously enjoyable! Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Chris Blackwater is a chartered engineer from Leeds. He began writing to entertain himself while working away on offshore oil platforms, power stations and shipyards. His career has taken him all over the world to many unusual locations and introduced him to some remarkable characters. His short stories have appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies. In recent years Chris has gradually drifted down to the south coast of England where he now spends his spare time kayaking and sailing on the Solent. Emergency Drill is his first book.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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