Treacherous Southern swamps
The seemingly bucolic setting of South Carolina’s Low Country reveals its seamier side in Bret Lott’s latest novel, a follow-up to 1999’s The Hunt Club. Lott continues the story of Huger Dillard, now 27, a college dropout living with his parents, and still clueless as to his calling in life.
Lott paints his main character layer by layer, slowly filling in the details of why he calls his blind father Unc, why he dropped out of UNC at Chapel Hill, and why he and his girlfriend Tabitha separated (she is now a postdoc at Stanford). Injected into this somewhat convoluted domestic drama is a woman’s body, discovered as the novel opens by Huger and Unc as they arrive by boat at the members-only golf course attached to their posh community of Landgrave Hall in the middle of the night—the only time Unc can practice his swing without being embarrassed.
The discovery of a woman’s partially eaten body in the pluff mud, just as Huger is about to set anchor, is horrific enough, but it’s complicated by the fact that Huger is also observed wearing illegal night-vision goggles by two officers at the Naval Weapons Station half a mile away. How Huger obtained those goggles (actually, Unc won them in one of his Thursday night poker games) is just one of the many backstories Lott introduces one by one, each part of his tale of long-buried family secrets, terrorists housed in the local Navy brig and sleeper cells patiently waiting to exact their carefully planned revenge.
Dead Low Tide is being labeled a “literary thriller,” which typically is a hard role to fill. It may not be erudite enough for fans of Le Carré, or suspenseful enough for followers of Nelson DeMille. But Lott’s timely premise—the possibility of terrorist sleeper cells existing for years in unlikely places, waiting for the word to unleash their pent-up hatred—is both shocking and plausible enough to garner its own niche of readers. And the way in which Lott weaves this dark subplot into past events, revealed slowly to both Huger and the reader, makes the conclusion of this portrait of Charleston’s darker side even more satisfying.