Book Review: Blood Cruise - Mats Strandberg

Blood Cruise - Mats Strandberg

The concept is promising and a little bit different for a horror novel. Deviating away from the familiar locations of a remote house in the woods, a gothic mansion or even from the satire of suburban life, Mats Strandberg offers up a cruise ship as a place of mass slaughter on the high seas. Clearly with a background of having served time as an employee on such a transport, it's no surprise that Strandberg presents a more varied cast of, dare I say it, unlikeable victims that he is willing to put through sheer terror and bloody horrible death. There's a bit of a disaster movie there in Blood Cruise as well as the horror and it's not without some social satire either.

The Baltic Charisma is indeed not exactly your regular luxury cruise ship. In reality it's a booze cruise on a one-day stopover between Sweden and Finland, attracting all sorts of misfits. There are the good-time party animals and the stag parties, alcoholics, dysfunctional families and lonely aging singles looking desperately for love and companionship, and even some misguided couples who think it might be a romantic getaway that presents one with the opportunity of popping the question. You have jaded crew members and security personnel trying to keep spirits from overflowing into trouble, and "entertainment" of karaoke hosted by a failed Eurovision singer whose drug and sex addiction problems are becoming a bit much to handle.

And then there are the strange ones; the ones whose mannerisms and appearances are a bit odd. The kind of ones you don't want to run into while trying to find your way drunk through a maze of near identical corridors with not strictly sequentially numbered cabins. What kind of horror awaits all these misfits on the Blood Cruise? I'll leave that to your imagination or to be found out by reading, but it's inevitably a gory and violent end for many of them. The only question really, as you get to know each of the characters, is which of them - if any - will survive. No-one is safe.

Is there any more depth to Blood Cruise than a lot of horrible meeting grisly fates? Does there even need to be? Surprisingly, there is actually. Initially at least there is a fair bit of attention paid to the little details of appearance, of girls applying make-up, of faded stars trying to hold a sense of vanity, of single people pretending that their friend hasn't turned up, of others acting a role in the company of their friends, and others trying to hold it together for the sake of their families. There's a lot of outward appearances concealing darker and nastier sides to people and the booze on the ferry-cruise permits inhibitions to dropped. There's perhaps some satire of a local Scandinavian character, but the generalised observations have recognisably wider application.

The trappings of a disaster movie isn't the only trick that Blood Cruise has as a horror novel. Strandberg also takes time to give some background, rationale and yes, even human characteristics to the 'monsters' on board the Baltic Charisma (great name that). Without giving anything away, since they are immediately marked out as being the strange ones, you get some sense of what drives both the old woman and the young boy with her; how they have lived, what they hope to achieve, how they hope to do that, and how - like all the other troubled individuals and couples on the ship - they have to fight against deeper instincts. It's not just an excuse for random wholesale slaughter, although of course you get that too with a sense of humour, a sense of irony, a sense of satire and most importantly a real sense of horror.

Blood Cruise by Mats Strandberg is published by Jo Fletcher on 12th July 2018

Amazon UK - Blood Cruise: A thrilling summer chiller from the new Stephen King

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