In spite of the fact that this is a fairly short piece of fiction (less than 19,000 words), Cast in Dark Waters is one of the best weird pirate stories I’ve ever read. The characters, particularly the protagonist, Crimson, seemed to almost walk off the page, they came across so real.
Crimson is a lady pirate, widowed, who is the toughest, most dangerous buccaneer in the Carribean. The plot is straightforward. An Englishman, having taken up the life of a Virginia tobacco farmer, has found out that his daughter has run away from finishing school in England with a notorious pirate. He and his wife have come seeking Crimson’s help in finding her. The pair of lovers are rumored to be staying on an island with a dark reputation. Supposedly the undead also inhabit the island.
And Crimson’s former husband may be among them.
That’s all I’ll say about the plot. This story could have come from Weird Tales, a collaboration of Henry S.Whitehead and Robert E. Howard. There are elements of both in this tale. The creepiness factor is about an 11.5 on a scale of 1 to 10. There’s plenty of swordplay, and if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the mast creaking in the breeze and smell the spray of the ocean as it breaks over the fo’c’sle.
Crimson is a wonderfully wounded heroine, and it’s amazing how much depth Gorman and Piccirilli bring to what would be a stock character in the hands of lesser writers, a woman buccaneer who’s as tough as a man. That’s almost become as much of a cliche in some circles as the maiden needing rescue. And they do it in far fewer pages than most writers would use.
All of the characters are well drawn. Their relationships are real, and they defy expectations. In fact, the whole thing defies expectations. You think you know what is going to happen once they reach the island, but Gorman and Piccirilli sidestep the obvious approach and go for the unexpected.
I rushed through this one in a single sitting. Gorman has long been a favorite of mine, but this is AFAIK the first work I’ve read by Piccirilli. I’ll need to read more of his stuff. I hope they write a sequel; I want to read more about Crimson.
Cast in Dark Waters, for all its grimness, was some of the most fun I’ve had in a great while. I highly recommend it.