Given all that, The Passenger: A Novel would have caught my eye regardless, but toss a Gothic sort of ghost story into the mix and there was no way I could pass it by. To his credit, F.R. Tallis uses the ghost story element sparingly, allowing the real horror of submarine warfare to carry most of the plot, but there's an underlying thread of anxiety and superstition that magnifies the sense of dread throughout. It's a subtle sort of supernatural flavor, one that allows for a lot of doubt as to what's really going on. The whole story is carefully crafted so as to never come right out and declare that there are ghosts on board or that the boat is really cursed, leaving us to wonder what's real and what's imagined.
It's a small cast of characters who carry the story here, and they're all well-developed. Not necessarily the most likable of men, but admirable in their own way. Even though these are German sailors counting the tonnage of allied ships they've sunk, there's a humanity to them . . . and even a sense of mercy for their victims. In fact, the futility of war and the psychological cost is a huge part of the horror here, adding yet another layer to the story. With the exception of a prolonged section of the book where the men are on furlough with the ship in dry dock, it's a fast pasted novel that races from one near-disaster to the next. It seems like everything that can go wrong for them does, and there were more than a few times I didn't expect the U-330 to rise again.
Readers looking for a more straightforward horror story are likely to be turned off by the amount of detail surrounding submarine warfare, maintenance, and survival, but it's those elements that drive the story home. Tallis makes us share the dread, the fear, and the hopelessness of the situation on multiple occasions, until we're almost wishing he'd wave it all away with a ghostly explanation and give them men their rest. Who and what The Passenger may be is, of course, the mystery that drives the novel, providing Kapitänleutnant Siegfried Lorenz with reasons to question both his superiors and himself. As much as part of me was hoping for a bit more of the supernatural going into it, I think the balance here is perfect, with the subtlety making for a much more effective story.
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published February 1st 2016 by Pegasus
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.