Blood Cruise by Mats Strandberg

The Blurb On The Back:

On the Baltic Sea, no one can hear you scream …

Tonight, twelve hundred expectant passengers have joined the booze-cruise between Sweden and Finland.  The creaking old ship travels this same route, back and forth, every day of the year. 

But this trip is going to be different.

In the middle of the night the ferry is suddenly cut off from the outside world.  There is nowhere to escape.  There is no way to contact the mainland.  And no one knows who they can trust.

Relationships are about to be tested.  Ordinary people are forced to become heroes.  But what happens this night may also bring out the worst in people …

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

The Baltic Charisma is a creaking ferry that makes daily, overnight tax-free booze cruises between Stockholm and Åland in Finland but which is suffering losses in a cut-throat market and whose staff know that redundancies will soon be coming.

Filip, a bar tender in the on-board club, Charisma Starlight, has worked on the ship for years and likes the bustle but worries about Marisol – a young woman who has recently started a new relationship – because he knows the strain that the ship can put on romances.  Dan Appelgren, by contrast, hates the ship because it represents how low his career has sunk – a former Eurovision competitor whose song was a chart-topping single but didn’t become Sweden’s entry, he’s stuck geeing up the drunks and the losers and the no-hopers on the Baltic Charisma’s karaoke bar and hoping that he can somehow find a way to kickstart his career back to where it should be.  Pia is one of the cruise’s 4 security guards – a mumsy, no-nonsense person who cares about the people under her charge and will do anything to protect them.

This particular journey is taking place on an ordinary day in early November and the cruise contains the same mix of people that it usually does – stag parties, hen parties, people who want to stock up on cheap booze, and people who just want an alcohol-filled good time.

60-something Marianne who is just looking to do something to take away from the loneliness she constantly feels.  There’s 12-year-old Albin, the adopted Vietnamese son of Mårten (a depressive whose mood worsens when he’s drunk, which is a lot of the time) and Cilla (a kind woman with a degenerative disease that’s left her confined to a wheelchair) who’s on the cruise with his Aunt Linda and 12-year-old cousin Lo (who hasn’t spoken to Albin since she and her mother moved away to a small town). Madde is looking for an escape as she’s just found out she’s going to be made redundant – she and her best friend Zandra are looking to get drunk and have as much sex as possible in the next 24 hours, preferably with Dan if she can manage it.  And finally there’s Calle, a former bar tender on the cruise who’s now working as a landscape architect but who has returned to the ship with his boyfriend Vincent in order to propose.

What no one on the Baltic Charisma knows is that the boat is also carrying two people – a woman and a 5-year-old boy – who will change the lives of everyone on the ship both literally and figuratively …

Mats Strandberg’s vampire horror thriller is an entertaining mix of THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE meets 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and although the wide cast is broadly drawn there’s enough on the page to care about what happens to the central characters and the fun comes from seeing who deservedly (or undeservedly) dies or survives and although there’s nothing terribly original here I would nevertheless definitely check out Standberg’s other work.

There is such a broad range of characters in the book that it’s inevitable that the main characters are broadly drawn, although I think that Strandberg does succeed in putting enough on the page to make you care about Madde, Marianne, Calle and Albin (although I think that Filip and the loathsome Dan are a little more two-dimensional) and certainly I was invested in them enough to care about what happened to them.  That said, I didn’t think that Vincent was sufficiently well drawn enough on the page for me to care about his relationship with Calle (which seemed to be intended as one of the emotional cores in the book) – certainly it’s not as interesting as Albin’s relationship with his cousin Lo or his parents – and as such, I was less interested in whether Calle and Vincent would meet up again or survive.

Strandberg’s vampires aren’t terribly original – there’s a hint at an ancient, hidden culture with rules about staying hidden and how to hunt, which the mother respects but the child does not – but there’s still fun to be had in watching how the child sets about with his decision to change the status quo and the scenes where he stalks his victims are genuinely chilling and creepy.

There’s plenty of violence and horror on the page and Strandberg’s pace is unrelenting as he switches points of view to keep the action moving (and I especially enjoyed the overview chapters from the ship’s perspective as they allow the reader to essentially pan out and take stock of the overall situation before plunging back in with the main characters). The fun comes with seeing who lives, who’s turned and who dies and Standberg does well at playing with reader expectations – saving some characters you’d think would survive and brutally whacking others – and I especially liked how some of the unpleasant characters are given a second chance that they don’t deserve.

The book ends with a set-up for a potential sequel, which I would definitely read but if that doesn’t happen, I would still check out Strandberg’s other work on the basis of this as it was such an entertaining read.

BLOOD CRUISE was released in the United Kingdom on 12thJuly 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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