Shark Beach by Chris Jameson
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks | Release Date: May 28, 2019 | Pages: 308
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Chris Jameson returns with another summertime shark-themed beach read that’ll scare the mankini off you.
Shark Beach follows a pair of vacationing families, the Scully’s and the Hautala’s, as they contend with the college kids partying their summer break away next door. Although Rick Scully is none too happy with the much younger Rashad flirting with his wife, Corrine, he’s soon going to find himself in far more troubling waters. Little do the gang know, there’s a research facility not too far away, one that’s been experimenting with sharks for the military. The goal is to turn nature’s most fearsome underwater predator into a controllable weapon using some nifty electronic implants to rejigger a shark’s brain to make it even more fearsome and violent. Sounds like a brilliant idea, right? What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it just so happens, there’s a category two hurricane about to make landfall, and that’s going to be the least of everyone’s worries.
While much of the first half of the book is aimed at getting readers familiar with the characters and giving us just enough of a reason to care when things get chompy later, Jameson keeps the tension and conflict high. Interpersonal drama abounds as Rick and Corrine grapple with personal issues and question whether or not their marriage will last much longer. The elder Scully child, meanwhile, is starting to crush hard on the Hautala’s boy, Jesse, who she’s known her whole life and makes for some funny/uncomfortable scenes here and there. I did appreciate Jameson eschewing the stereotypical over-the-top party hardy brand of college breakers, opting instead to make them more subdued and real, rather than toxic male frat boys and dimwitted sorority sisters you’re quick to hate and eager to see bleed. Throughout all the character building — and there are an awful lot of characters here, so some are better defined and more memorable than others — Jameson keeps an eye on the action. The hurricane’s landfall is every bit as chaotic as you could want and provides a good bit of natural horror oomph while we wait for the shark action to kick into high gear.
And, man, once those sharks get loose…good lord. The last half of Shark Beach is like mainlining all of Shark Week simultaneously in one sitting. If you’ve read Jameson’s prior two shark horror books, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, well then, buckle up! The nature of the research institute’s shark experiments requires a lot of test subjects, so instead of just one or two hungry and vicious apexes Jameson floods the shores of Captiva Island with thirty brain-damaged, jacked-up, out of control monsters that make Jaws look like a goldfish. It. Is. Glorious! There’s all kinds of mayhem, dismembering, and toothy shark attack goodness as the families and college kids try to salvage what’s left of their island retreat and enjoy their vacation, blissfully ignorant of what’s waiting for them in the water. And thanks to Jameson’s character work, you actually kind of give a crap about some of these characters meeting their atrocious ends. Some of the principals here are relateable and human enough that you can’t help but feel sympathy for them as they find themselves trapped and hopelessly out of luck.
Shark Beach is perfect summer escapist fun. I really can’t think of anything to complain about, and it hit all the right notes for me. It’s the kind of book that knows exactly what it needs to be, carries absolutely no pretensions otherwise, and delivers the goods the whole way through. I went into it wanting little more than an enjoyable, pulpy genre read with a spate of truly awful, gory shark attacks and, hot damn, I got it. I got it in spades. Shark Beach delivered! I found myself wincing more than a few times at the breathless brutality that unfolded, and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to go an ocean beach vacation anytime soon. Hell, I’m even side-eyeing freshwater beach vacations just to be on the safe side.