In a horror novel, the setting of the story counts as much as the events that unfold. A real-life backdrop makes the events that much more ‘real’.
In her new book The Deep, Alma Katsu sets her creepy ghost story on board the most famous nautical voyage of all time: the ill-fated first trip of the Titanic.
In interviews and podcasts, Katsu has spoken of an interesting historical fact that became the seed of this novel: that the Titanic was one of three new ships of the same pattern, the so-called ‘Olympic Class’, and another of those ships, the Britannic, also sank a few years after the Titanic’s demise. And there was at least one passenger who was on both of these ships! Katsu takes this core fact and spins a story of hauntings, possession, and folk spirits around it.
Her central character is Annie Hebbley, a staff member on the Titanic in 1912, and subsequently a nurse on the Britannic in 1916.
On board the Titanic, Annie is the stewardess serving a row of first-class suites, many of them booked by characters drawn from real life: Benjamin Guggenheim, John Jacob Astor, Lucy Duff-Gordon, and a few others—all high society members of the time.
Life is packed with activities and fun on board for the passengers, and Annie is swept up in her job and enjoying herself. Tragedy strikes in the form of the death of a servant boy during a seance. The mood changes; Annie begins to sense the presence of some sort of sea spirit on board. Worse, she suspects it is after the baby of one of her assigned passengers.
But will anyone believe her, and can she save the baby from harm?
In parallel, we follow Annie on the Britannic, a hospital ship in 1916, as she adjusts to wartime hospital life.
When the ship docks to board some wounded soldiers, she comes face to face with the father of the baby she tried to protect, on the Titanic. Like a ghost, the unfinished story from the past has come back to haunt her.
The book’s real strength is Katsu’s research skills—she was a fact-checker for the CIA in a previous job, and still conducts fact-checking training sessions for writers.
The atmosphere of the ship is built beautifully. We know, already, that these ships are going to sink, but we’re still caught up in the immersive luxury world of the Titanic as the story unfolds.
We follow the daily routines of the passengers on board, the facilities, the living quarters of both the rich passengers and the service staff.
The ship had activities such as dances and games organised every day, and then other impromptu activities of the time, such as card sessions and seances. Interleaved in between is the ghostly plot, adding spice to the proceedings. Read the book for a peep into a bygone era, and an imaginative retelling of one of the greatest tragedies of all time.