Drowned Lives by Stephen Booth reviewed

Drowned Lives Book Cover Drowned Lives
Stephen Booth
Little, Brown Book Group UK
August 15, 2019

Set in and around the dark, misty canals of Lichfield, Stephen Booth's incredible new novel is awash with mystery.

When council officer Chris Buckley is approached by an odd old man demanding help in healing a decades-old family rift, he sends the stranger away.

But then the old man is murdered, and the police arrive on the Chris's doorstep asking questions to which he has no answers.

As Chris begins to look into the circumstances of the murder, he uncovers a deadly secret in the silt and mud of the local canals that he'll realise was better kept buried.


Drowned Lives by Stephen Booth is set mainly in Lichfield in the Midlands. This is about Chris Buckley and canals in the area. Chris is an about to be redundant council officer who is finding himself rather short of money. His parents have both died now and his life seems to be going nowhere. His divorcee neighbour has other ideas though and so does the strange old man he meets at a canal restoration project. Chris is making a bit of money from freelance journalism and is covering the project. The old man wants Chris’s help to investigate an ancient family rift which has canal connections. Chris is not that interested and then the old man dies.

I liked the opening of Drowned Lives – it created a good atmosphere. We follow Chris as his life changes and becomes increasingly complicated due to the old man’s request for help. Chris as a character is somewhat depressed and the canal history makes for a rather bleak background. Initially I found the story simple and it had a haunting quality which drew me in.

I did enjoy this book until about halfway through. However the very bleakness and depressed nature of Chris’s life and personality began to irritate me. Sometimes I felt like simply shouting at him – often things I would probably not put in a review! Nevertheless the story as a whole kept me engaged combining history with family troubles.

BUT – and there often is one – I found the balance of my interested shifted and Chris’s flaws seemed to dominate. In addition the family mystery started to become something that did not hold the same appeal as earlier parts. There came a point when I simply wanted it to be over I’m afraid. The writing here is fine and I guess the pace is ok too. However, for me, Chris’s character and my irritation with him (!!) left me fairly uninterested with the outcome.

There is no question others will like Drowned Lives. The basic idea of a family feud over generations centred on the canal network is very good. The location, descriptive writing is fine. However, while I enjoyed the early parts, overall this didn’t deliver what I’d hoped for.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review