Nick Cutter’s debut, The Troop, was one of those books about which I was truly ambivalent, literally thunking the book down after a haunting and visceral scene and snatching it up again because I simply had to know what was going to happen next. I recommended it widely to friends (it’s possible that I think you’re a sissy if I haven’t already nagged you to read it) and twitched at the mere sight of The Deep when it settled into the stack of new books.

Gallery Books  Simon & Schuster, 2014

Gallery Books
Simon & Schuster, 2015

What he does so well is what has landed Stephen King’s books at the top of so many bestseller lists; he takes all-too-human characters, places them in ordinary stressful situations that quickly morph into extraordinary situations, and forces us to watch them behave in an all-too-human way, as often disgusting and horrifying as the stuff of newspaper headlines and research studies.

These are universal fears, tightly controlled and examined in the confines of fiction, but seemingly limitless in our consciousness.

In The Deep, Nick Cutter focusses on the unknown. Specifically, this translates into a work which is set beneath the waves.

“Our government has spent thirty million dollars on space exploration, and less than 1 percent of that to explore the world underneath us right now. But it’s just as unknown. You’ll be entering another world, really and truly.”

More generally, The Deep is about the power of the imagination to create a world in the dark. Yes, that’s right. “Darkness fell like a guillotine blade.”

Most readers will understand, at the very least through a childhood memory, a fear of the dark. But in The Deep, this darkness is not only literal. It is also metaphorical, for these are dark times.

When readers meet Luke, it “wasn’t exactly the apocalypse…just something awful that was happening.” And it is also psychological.

As in The Troop, the most terrifying scenes in The Deep, for characters and readers alike, are those rooted in psychological wanderings, be they errant or adventurous, frightening or inspiring. “The blood comes out of you in funny, nontraditional places,” warns Luke’s guide, as they head below.

The author’s dabbling in metaphor makes rare appearances, whether below or above the surface. “The Trieste shivered. The walls seemed to expand like a pair of lungs inhaling a slow, contented breath. The station settled and there came, suddenly, a persistent silence – a creeping, secretive silence that carried down every tunnel.” Something is described as being a “drab working color – the color you’d get if you scraped a billion…thumbprints off of dirty window panes and collected them into a ball”.

But ultimately, these stories work not because of any single element’s functioning, neither the language nor the structure, neither the characterization nor the setting; Nick Cutter’s narratives succeed because they connect with readers’ deepest fears at a visceral level, and all of these elements come together to bolster those fears.

Use evocative language if you like: “The tunnels seemed to be lengthening with a sly stretch and pull. They were narrowing, too, their ceilings lowering. The station’s geometries were shifting subtly.”

Or, get to the point: “What the hell was that?”

Nick Cutter’s stories take you into dark places. And perhaps, if you’re walking barefoot, you’ll be able to recognize the terrain and steer yourself clear. But with every step, you’ll have to think about what you’re stepping in, and Nick Cutter won’t let you forget for a moment just how awful it is.