Total Loss by Fred Lockwood

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Total lack of tension

DR FRED LOCKWOOD is a professor of learning and teaching and a keen diver, and I have been reading his new work of fiction.
I was prepared for a suspenseful thriller. The cover shows a couple of divers hanging off a wreck, and the author told me when suggesting that DIVER review the book that “the main characters… are divers and the main action takes place under water”.
What he didn’t say was that pretty much the only action takes place under water, and it comes in a concentrated burst almost two-thirds of the way through the book.
That title was asking for trouble. Total Loss comes in three sections, each dealing in exhaustive detail with the setting-up of an organisation – a marine salvage company (that’s where the divers come in), a criminal gang in east Africa, and a container outfit in the UK. They come to be connected through the total loss of the title, a cargo vessel called the Lee Kwan Fung.
It all starts off well enough with the divers setting up their company, a tale told in flashback because the baddies have already kidnapped them. Then, when section two starts – and just goes on, and on – we wonder if we’ll ever return to the main story, and have almost forgotten it by the time we do.
This process is repeated in part three, when I had thought everything was pretty much resolved. It is written in the flat tones of a police report.
So we plough on without quite knowing why, and it may be only someone like me who has committed to reviewing the book who makes it to the end.
The characters, apart from gang-leader SAM (the only person I know other than underwater photographer Michael AW to have his name spelt and even spoken in capital letters) are only lightly sketched, so we feel little sense of engagement with their fates.
The background is impressively well-researched – but the book is almost all background. In the end its odd structure and the almost total absence of narrative tension kept me asking at regular intervals: “Yes, but why are you telling me all this?”
Steve Weinman

Vanguard Press
ISBN: 9781784651022
Softback, 330pp, £9.99

Appeared in DIVER July 2016



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