Book review: Into the Sounds, by Lee Murray

21 09 2018

Lee Murray is a New Zealand speculative fiction writer and editor who has written (and, in some cases, co-written with fellow NZ author Dan Rabarts) several novels and a substantial body of shorter fiction, aimed both at adults and at children. Her haul of Sir Julius Vogel Awards is now into double figures; she’s also a joint winner (again with Dan Rabarts) of an Australian Shadows award for her role in editing the Baby Teeth horror anthology.


Into the Sounds is a follow-up to Murray’s Taine McKenna creature feature Into the Mist, which I reviewed last year. Sounds fairly straightforwardly repeats Mist‘s winning formula of small-group-of-soldiers-and-civilians-must-survive-encounter-with-outsized-monster-plus-criminal-gang-in-depths-of-wilderness-NZ, but when all’s said and done, that’s a pretty good formula. And Murray changes it up here both with the scale of the monster—a truly giant creature, lurking in the depths of Fiordland’s sounds—and the ruthlessness of the criminals, who in Sounds are well-equipped mercenaries (not only do they have their own AK47s, they have their own ex-mil submarine) that just happen to be in Fiordland at the same time as Taine, Dr Jules Asher, and their group of redshirts. McKenna and colleagues are in Fiordland on a deer-hunting expedition, by way of R&R; the mercenaries are there to collect what they believe to be the most unusual biological specimens the region has to offer (spoiler: they don’t know about the monster in the fjord. Yet). Murray’s characterisation is as razor-sharp as ever, her handling of a multiplicity of conflicting viewpoints is immensely impressive, and there are several gruesome ends catalogued as the body count inevitably climbs. And it’s a difficult task to successfully merge gun-toting mil-horror with the sensitively detailed incorporation of Maori lore, but Murray manages that too, as well as a nuanced and well-drawn emotional arc involving McKenna and Asher. If there’s anything that feels slightly unconvincing, it’s the survival of such a large proportion of the original hunting party against a significantly larger group of better-armed mercenaries: while they certainly take some significant casualties, Taine et al. do tend to ride their luck something chronic, and to collect on that luck more than once. That said, though: cryptobiology (check), desperate measures invoked by desperate times (check), bad people meeting bad ends (check)—what’s not to like?