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Review: Dark Tides, by Chris Ewan

Hallowe’en on the Isle of Man is called Hop-tu-naa. There is a traditional song children sing as they go door-to-door, which ends with the phrase, “Your mother is gone.” If they sing well, they receive treats and some loose change.
Eight-year-old Claire Cooper sings the song for a man named Edward Caine and decides that he is a not a nice man and she doesn’t like him very much. He is her mother’s employer and he asks that her mother return to his house later to finish up some bookwork. Her mother is never seen again.
Six years later Claire (who sees herself as a mousey kind of semi-recluse) is asked by Rachel (the popular girl at school) to join some friends of hers for a Hop-tu-naa adventure. So they are joined by David, Callum, Mark and Scott and the group drives off into the woods and play a game that one of the group has come up with as a dare. This is the start of an annual tradition . . . driving off somewhere and engaging in a game of sorts that most often is rather silly and sometimes dangerous.
The years go by and Claire’s dad continues to grieve for his lost wife and Claire grows up to become a policewoman. But the Hop-tu-naa game goes on. One of them finally goes wrong. The game this year is to break into Edward Cain’s house while he and his son Morgan are gone. But they are not. Caine confronts them with a shotgun and in the struggle that ensues Mark overcomes, and badly injures, him.
Mark is arrested and goes to jail. The friends lead ordinary lives until they begin dying, one by one, on Hop-tu-naa. Claire, with her police training, has some ideas about who is behind the deaths, which look like accidents, but could well be seen as murder if examined closely.
This is a tricky book. There has to be somebody lurking in the shadows who is killing the six friends, (and maybe Claire’s mother) but Ewan is very careful not to scatter too many clues along the way. The clues are so few and so slim that the ending may come as a surprise to all but the most discerning readers.