If I asked you to name the planet’s natural resources, could you? What about the top five? Well, the five most common natural resources are water, air, coal, natural gas and oil. They say that at the current rate of consumption, the earth’s oil reserves will run out in about 30-40 years. There are an estimated 65,000 oilfields around the globe, with the North Sea said to contain 1.7 to 3.3billon barrels of oil. In 2018 it was recorded that in the North Sea alone, there are 184 “Offshore” platforms.
Life on one of these behemoths is dangerous, but extremely well paid. A Reuters article in 2020, quoted Norwegian Statistics Office records, which stated Norwegian oil workers were earning on average $100,000 a year, including bonuses and overtime. This month’s second book review is set on a North Sea oil rig, its Emergency Drill by Chris Blackwater and published by Dark Edge Press ( http://www.darkedgepress.co.uk ) on the 18th January.
Just as newly qualified medic Danny Vertiy arrives on the Cuillin Alpha north sea oil platform, a feroucious storm damages the satellite system severing all communication with the mainland. Before long he has to do emergency life saving surgery on a crew mate, whose accident he suspects was the work of a saboteur. When his patient dies and a sinister voice claiming to be the Pied Piper makes a threatening announcement over the PA , along with more vital equipment on the platform is damaged. Danny and the crew find themselves trapped on an isolated rig with a killer on the loose, while the north Atlantic sea rages around them. Can he find the culprit before anyone else dies or the whole platform is jepordised as paranoia among the crew leads to anarchy.
Thrillers set on oil rigs are not new, but one that came to mind while reading this book was the 1980 Roger Moore film ‘North Sea Hijack’, in which an eccentric cat loving counter terrorist expert (Roger Moore) is asked put in place a plan to avert the hijack of oil rigs insured by Lloyds. Then, a couple of months later he must put his plan into operation when two oil rigs are held ransom.
Writing a book set on an oil rig is like setting it on a space station or dessert island, you are immediately leaving your hero and the the killer or killers trapped in a confined space, which immediately heightens the tension and gives the writer a good firm foundation on which to tell an engrossing story, while the competition has to find ways to build the tension though other means. This is what Blackwater has done for his first foray into novel writing and in doing so delivers a very enjoyable page turner from the outset.
The main character of Danny is believable as are some of his other more experienced contemporaries, Blackwater has learned quickly enough how to make sweat come off a page and make you feel as if you are living and breathing every step with the protagonist. In this case its sweat, salt water and a howling gale, which at times made me want to sit further back in my seat to shelter from the elements. Danny’s English character helps him stand out from the other characters, largely made up of Scottish crew, with a couple of foreign characters thrown in.
While reading the book I had a yearning to hear the book in audio format, so as to get the crew’s deep Scottish brogues. I’ve often said, I could go to sleep listening to Nicola Sturgeon reading a thesaurus or a takeaway menu and maybe if she read this to me over the phone, I’d be in my element even more than I was.
Blackwater also makes sure that the story reflects the fact that the oil rigs are moving with the times and that there is some sort of workplace equality and that there are some hardy women working onboard. represented in this case by the gemma, the no nonsense Scottish Heli-Admin. There’s also topicality, with references to the Piper Alpha disaster in July 1988.
This is English author Chris Blackwater’s ( @chrisblackwater ) debut Novel. He’s a Chartered Engineer by trade who started writing to relieve boredom while working offshore platforms and shipyards in England all around the world. His short stories have appeared in various publications and anthologies. Nowadays Chris lives on the South Coast of England, where he spends his time kayaking and sailing on the Solent.
So, if you are looking for a taut and fresh debut from a promising new thriller writer, Slip down to your local bookshop or drill down into the the worldwide web and order a copy online. Then batten down the hatches and prepare to be blown around by this thrilling debut.
Reviewed by Adrian Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy, come back and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.