Book review: The Chamber by Will Dean

Tuesday, June 11, 2024 Permalink

Holy schmoly! What a ride this book was. I’m not usually a fan of ‘action’ oriented novels and tend to skim over fight scenes and the like, even when the author obviously knows their stuff. Having said that, in the last couple of years I’ve enjoyed TJ Newman’s heart-in-mouth novels involving plane-based drama. I know one or both are being translated onto the big or small screen and I can see why. The Chamber by Will Dean blew me away for similar reasons. It’s a literal pressure cooker of a novel – centred around a saturation diving crew – in a sardine can 100m below the ocean’s surface. Their work is dangerous enough but throw in some suspicious deaths and you’ve got an extraordinary locked-room mystery.

Book review: The Chamber by Will DeanThe Chamber
by Will Dean
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, Hodder & Stoughton UK
on 06/06/2024
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1399734156
Pages: 360
four-half-stars
Goodreads

On a boat heading out into the North Sea, Ellen Brooke steels herself to spend almost a month locked inside a hyperbaric chamber with five other divers. They are all being paid handsomely for this work - to be lowered each day inside a diving bell to the sea bed, taking it in turns to dive down and repair oil pipes that lie in the dark waters. It is a close knit team and it has to any error or loss of trust could be catastrophic.

All is going to plan until one of the divers is found unresponsive in his bunk. He hadn't left the chamber. It will take four more days of decompression, locked away together, before the hatch can be opened. Four more days of bare steel, intrusive thoughts, and the constant struggle not to give way to panic. Mind games, exhaustion, suspicion, and, most of all, pressure. And if someone does unlock the door, everyone dies...

Our narrator is Ellen Brooke, the only female member of the six-person dive crew, and through her we meet her colleagues, four of whom she knows well and has worked with often. We also meet some of their 90+ person support crew who we learn very literally hold our divers’ lives in their hands. The tiniest of errors could cause the divers’ world to implode or freeze them to death in seconds.

The level of detail Dean includes here – in relation to saturation diving and life lived in a chamber – is spectacular. Like I said I’m usually a skimmer but I found some of the information shared here fascinating, such as the level of precision needed to pump hot water into wet suits while diving and the fact the divers are breathing heliox so those on the surface need an unscrambler to understand them!

There are a couple of other characters we meet a few times, including the expedition medic and the crew’s boss who many have worked with before. Later we also meet a detective who boards the diving support vessel to investigate the deaths. There are of course also references to loved ones and families of the divers. Working in such close proximity and their need to depend on each other, means there’s a strong level of camaraderie and trust.

I was already hooked as Brooke and another diver are the first sent down in the diving bell to do something or other as part of the repairs to an oil rig. Despite their significant experience there are several close calls – Dean delivering very edge-of-your-seat stuff for breathless readers.

And then one of the divers is found dead. There’s no overt cause and it’s assumed it’s something to do with their health. Until another diver dies… and then we’ve moved beyond a coincidence. Because we’ve been given precise information about how food is passed through decompressed airlocks and water is pumped into the wet room/pot we pretty much know the chamber is impenetrable.

So this is the quintessential locked-room mystery because WHY and WHO are not the only questions… but HOW becomes important. Dean certainly keeps us guessing even as suspects start to dwindle and nerves are tested. And even though we’re ultimately handed the answers… he deftly adds in a few so-quick-you-may-have-missed-it twists that could be frustrating, but are instead very very clever and may have readers pondering long after finishing.

I should mention that Dean also considers some deeper themes around work-related pressure and anxiety, its impact on families as well as grief and loss.

The Chamber by Will Dean was published by Hodder & Stoughton in early June in the UK and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

four-half-stars

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