Halloween Scene Reads: The Deep By Peter Benchley (1976)

Even though I’ve got an Ambitious Reading List in the works, I just couldn’t resist digging through the trio of boxes in the garage filled with books I haven’t read yet. My aim this time was to grab a whole bunch of scary books for the Halloween season. There are…way too many and I’m sure I’ll only get through a few — especially because I just picked up another stack at the library today — but what the heck?!

So, I started with this copy of Peter Benchley’s The Deep from 1976 because I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. I had a very poor reaction to the time I listened to an audiobook version of Jaws,  so I figured I’d get this one out of the way first.

When I wrote about that experience, I wrote, “At the end of the day, when you’re writing a book about sharks, write about sharks.” In this book, which is about a newlywed couple diving for treasure with a local guy in Bermuda, Benchley definitely wrote about a newlywed couple diving for treasure in Bermuda!

In this case we’re talking about David and Gail Sanders, visitors to Bermuda who discover ampules of morphine near a reef who eventually team up with an underwater expert named Treece to dig them up so the local gangster, Cloche, can’t do the same and sell it to the islanders. In doing so, they also discover a number of artifacts that don’t seem to show up in any records, but eventually turn out to be a big deal.

As it turned out, I really enjoyed reading The Deep. Whereas Jaws seemed to meander into unnecessary melodramatic territory, this book remained on point the whole time. I also thought that Benchley struck a solid balance between describing all of this underwater stuff and letting my imagination take hold. Of course, it helps that I’ve watched more than a few seasons of Bering Sea Gold to have a mental image of some of the techniques.

My one complaint came from the characterization of Sanders. At heart he’s a guy who always wanted a big screen-style adventure and finally found himself living one. That’s totally fine by me, but, he also divorced his wife and left behind his two kids to marry Gail. If what amounted to maybe a page’s worth of text got deleted, I’d be totally down with this book, but making him a guy that slowly and then fully abandoned his children. I can see how this might be explained as a way for a then-modern man to cast off the shackles of the societal norms that had been “forced” on him to some extent, but it more so feels like a dude ditching his wife and kids because he found a woman who also liked to scuba dive.

I should also say that, while this is definitely his story, I was fairly impressed with how Gail was handled throughout the book. She might sit out some of the dives, but it’s not because she’s the token female, it’s because she’s hurt from diving so much! She also takes action when need be and actually feels pretty bad — but not broken — over the terrible thing she had to do, which makes her far more interesting to me.

The last thing I want to mention before signing off on this one and moving on to Caroline B. Cooney’s The Face On The Milk Carton is that it’s not really a horror book. There are some real life mentions of voodoo (or bush as it’s called repeatedly) but it’s never really taken seriously by the characters aside from the effects it could have on the locals. However, it freaked me out because I have a weird thing about underwater stuff. I love seeing those kinds of scenes in movies or on the aforementioned reality shows and even in books and I love swimming, but I HAAATE the idea of being anywhere near something sunken unless I know well in advance it’s there. So, because of that, I’ll count this one, give it a thumb’s up and move right along!

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