Title: Dark Waters
Author: Chris Quinton
Publisher: Kouros Books
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Gay/ Scotish Historical/ Fantasy/ Mystery
Length: 88 pages
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
A Guest Review by StaceyR
Set in Old World Scotland – A cross between Clash of the Titans and Sherlock Holmes. Lassies are being murdered in the glen and it’s up the immortal creature living in the loch and a traveling demigod (of sorts) to find the murderer before villagers turn their swords and axes against them.
Flein is a wanderer by instinct and need, roaming the known world as the fancy takes him.
In the Highland village of Glenfinnan, women have been raped and brutally murdered. The killer is a waterhorse, a monstrous shapeshifter by all accounts. But when Flein meets Donnchadh, first in its equine form, then its man-shape, he knows the water-horse is innocent. As they hunt for the real murderer, Flein reluc-tantly becomes more and more drawn to the handsome shapeshifter. Donnchadh, though wary, shares the same attraction.
But time is against them. They must find the killer before more women die. Then suspicion is turned on them and the hunters be-come the hunted.
Reader Advisory: This story contains references to rape and murder.
A captivating blend of historical detail and Scottish lore, DARK WATERS drew me in on the first page and had me spellbound until the end. There’s a refreshing cadence to Chris Quinton’s writing that really lends itself to the historical setting.
The story starts off with a bit of a prologue in the view of a hermit who’s befriended a mythical being who emerges from the loch as a horse and can shift into human form. The hermit believed that by teaching the creature to speak Gaelic he could bring it’s lost evil soul to God. Tormented by his own sexual desires and erotic dreams of seducing the beautiful creature, he’s now certain the creature is soulless, his own soul defiled by his carnal thoughts. When the creature arrives for his lesson in the form of a gloriously naked man, full of innocence and curiosity, the hermit attacks, prepared to kill the beast by all that’s holy. Things do not end well for the holy hermit.
Sometime later Flein Traveler is making his way through the Highlands, delivering royal messages to monks and royalty along the way. At each stop he’s warned to take the longer inland route and steer clear of Loch Sheil, where an unholy beast has been eating men and savaging and raping women. Flein is mostly amused by the warnings, his interest piqued by these recurring tales of the waterhorse, a shape-shifting immortal he knows to exist but has never come across in his travels around the world. Flein appears to be a mere mortal, but he’s actually hundreds of years old, a trait of immortality inherited from his father, an infamous and powerful satyr. While he’s had male and female lovers and even wives over the years, none could hold him for long, wanderlust being his greatest companion.
Disregarding the warnings, Flein continues on the shortest route, making camp near the loch. His neck prickles, warning him of approaching power before he sees the dark stallion standing on the shore of the loch, watching him. He’s captivated by the horse’s beauty and greets the dangerous stag as he does everything else, with subtle caution and a wide smile. The horse doesn’t shift into human form, but watches him with caution and curiosity. Flein sets about making his dinner, talking to the waterhorse as he would any companion, telling it of his travels to other countries.
When Flein stops at the next abbey to see the monk Aurelius, a fellow immortal, Aurelius tells him there is a human monster in the area, savaging young women and blaming the murders on the legend of the waterhorse. Flein tells him he’s met the waterhorse and Aurelius warns him some creatures are more dangerous and deadly than themselves and he should avoid the creature. Flein insists there is no reason to avoid it, but heeds his advice about protection and creates a magical binding he can use to control the creature’s intent instead of a weapon that could harm the creature. He ignores Aurelius’s teasing about his fascination with the waterhorse and refuses to think too deeply on his draw to the creature.
When Flein camps near the loch again the horse approaches. Flein talks about his impending travels. The creature shifts into human form to ask questions about his destination. Flein is instantly captivated by the man’s wild beauty. When the waterhorse won’t answer his questions or give a name, Flein gives him the name Donnchadh, meaning Dark Warrior. Donnchadh is full of questions, and evasive to any asked in return. When Flein talks about his travels he can see Donnchadh’s fascination and realizes he longs to see other places but is bound to the loch and the surrounding glen. He invites Donnchadh to the abbey to meet Aurelius, but he refuses, saying he doesn’t leave the loch. Flein tells him about the murders of the women and their suspicion that it’s a man with a twisted mind who’s preying on the women. Donnchadh is furious that someone would prey on his people in his glen. While he doesn’t interact with them, he views them as his flock. Flein asks if he has hunted the people as prey and he admits he has. Why shouldn’t he, sometimes a Sheppard will feast on one of his sheep? He wants to hear more about Flein’s travels. Flein says he’ll talk if Donnchadh will allow him to brush the knots from his hair. Flein intends to place the binding in his hair. Donnchadh consents, until Flein gives in to desire and touches his skin. Donnchadh startles away and retreats into the loch.
The next morning he finds Donnchadh waiting in camp, determined to go with Flein so he can take care of the man poaching his people. Flein warns him that the villagers will attack him if he does not try to fit in. While they may have the luxury of long lives and fast healing, they can be killed. Flein agrees to help him, in the hope that Donnchadh’s interaction with the villagers will help him see his people as individuals, and not just a flock of sheep. His hopes are thin though, as he keeps reminding himself Donnchadh is more beast than man. Thinking to protect the unsuspecting villagers, he ties the binding in Donnchadh’s hair while helping him with a plaid. He feels some guilt over the creature’s look of betrayal and worries the binding isn’t working when he’s instantly defiant. But when he tells Donnchadh to follow him, he follows.
They arrive at the village to find a fresh murder has been committed. The Chieftain is all too willing to blame the waterhorse for the killings, since the creature killed his son a few years back. Nothing would give him more satisfaction than destroying the beast. Flein’s protectiveness keeps him close to Donnchadh, as close as Donnchadh will allow, which is at arm’s length. This is where the story takes on a Shirlock Holms detective style of mystery, the banter of reason and logic between Flein and Donnchaddh as they begin to unravel the gruesome details of mutilation and telltale signs of a serial killer. And, yeah, it gets graphic when examining a murdered women’s corpse. As they work with the villagers Donnchaddh’s wariness begins to ease and Flein starts to crave the fleeting caresses an comforting touches, warning himself all the while it could be the binding influencing Donnchadh’s subtle indulgence. Even if a waterhorse were capable of returning affection, how can wandering Flein find love with a waterhorse who’s bound to his loch? As Flein and Donnchadh get closer to discovering the killer’s identity the killer does all he can to turn the village against them—when Donnchadh’s true nature is revealed, they become the hunted.
There is a slow build of romance and suspense in this story, but both culminate to a powerful climax, delivering action, excitement and a satisfying end. I was amazed that this book was only 88 pages because there is so much seamless story packed inside. Amazing characters, simmering romance and great storytelling. If mythological fantasies and mystery plots are to your liking, I definitely recommend DARK WATERS.