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The Boatman's Daughter


The Boatman's Daughter

THE BOATMAN’S DAUGHTER is arguably the perfect horror novel. It may well be the perfect novel, period, or at least on a shortlist of such titles. Do I need to say more?

Maybe I do.

This is Andy Davidson’s second book, after 2017’s critically acclaimed IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN, which was shortlisted for several awards. THE BOATMAN’S DAUGHTER goes beyond that most worthy novel. While the former is a work of literary horror superimposed on the contemporary western genre, the latter is a mind-numbing, nightmarish turn of southern gothic with supernatural elements clashing with humanity’s best and worst impulses, narrated with literary prose of the highest order. I was by turns reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s first several novels, W.W. Jacobs, August Derleth and Erskine Caldwell, among others. However, the originality of Davidson’s unique voice shines through the wonderful and distinctive babble of those who have come before him.

"THE BOATMAN’S DAUGHTER is arguably the perfect horror novel. It may well be the perfect novel, period, or at least on a shortlist of such titles."

Davidson sets THE BOATMAN’S DAUGHTER deep in the Arkansas bayou where you will find that a boat is as likely a mode of transportation as an automobile, if not more so. A young woman named Miranda Crabtree is the boatman’s daughter of the piece, possessed of an interior and exterior strength honed by being orphaned at an early age in a dangerous time and place. Miranda’s father was the conduit by which Billy Cotton, an aged, crazed backwoods preacher, and his rapidly depleting congregation ferried contraband to a local group of bikers.

Miranda took over the task when he disappeared during a fateful and fatal transaction, using the proceeds of her activity to provide for the boy she calls her “brother” --- a mute swamp foundling with birth defects --- and Iskra, an elderly woman who styles herself as a witch, for good reason. She also must protect her charges from Charlie Riddle, a corrupt local law enforcement officer who is in league with Cotton. One of her few allies is John Avery, a noble dwarf with a wife and an infant of his own to protect.

Things come to a head when Cotton presents Miranda with a new and terrible task, which she is emotionally incapable of fulfilling, and sets Riddle on a course of destruction, fueled in part by a simmering grudge against Miranda that he has plotted for years. Davidson devotes the first half of his tale to setting things up, informing readers of what has occurred in the book’s violent past, before unleashing the nightmare that unreels in rapid torrent throughout the second half. All is resolved, though no one is left whole, intact or untouched.

Davidson leaves no atrocity unmentioned in THE BOATMAN’S DAUGHTER, yet there is not a gratuitous act in the book. It is the darkest of tales, beautifully but unflinchingly told, full of violence, sacrifice and --- however unexpectedly --- redemption, written as if composed while listening to the David Eugene Edwards songbook played at full volume. You will never get this book, its characters or its author out of your head or your nightmares after reading it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 6, 2020

The Boatman's Daughter
by Andy Davidson