Elinor Dammert was rescued from her room in the flood-isolated hotel. What strange mission brought her there? How did she survive her isolation? Why was she in the Alabama town of Perdido that Easter morning in 1919?
These questions would never be answered because larger and even more terrifying ones would be asked. She soon would become a strange presence in the wealthy Caskey familiy and their town. Horrors, virtually unspeakable and nearly undescribabale, follow.
Normally I would do all six covertexts. But in this case they are so spoilerific that you basically don´t need to read the books. Like I wrote this is a 1100+ pages novel broken up in six parts at 170 to 190 pages each.
Basically – and this isn´t exactly a spoiler as it is revealed in the first chapters of the first novel – it is Creature of the Black Lagoon meets Southern Gothic.
Perdido is a little city in Alabama a few hours drive from the gulf of Mexico. Some houses along the river Perdido. It is ruled by three rich families who made their fortune with their saw-mills. At the beginning the secret ruler of the city and her familiy is the widow Mary-Love Caskey who has their two children Elvennia (which is called Sister) and Oscar under the thumb.
In 1919, at the beginning of the story, the town is flooded by the river. Oscar Caskey discovers a mysterious young lady in the hotel which was seemingly forgotten at the evacuation. It is Elinor Dammert, who says she is a teacher looking for work. Young Oscar is mightily smitten with the smart young woman, much to the chagrin of his mother who despises her on sight.
But love conquers all, and Oscar and Elinor marry.
Of course the Caskey´s don´t know that Elinor is kind of a magical Creature from the Black Lagoon, a shapechanger who changes into a monster if she comes in contact with the river which is her true home. And she knows the dark secrets of the water and the country, kills the odd sacrifice to the river or unruly familiy-members while nurturing her new family with an iron will.
In the the span from 1919 to the 60s under Elinors guidance the family gets filthy rich from new found oil while changing with the times. There is a lot of often bitter family feuding, loyal black servants – think Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind – and things which go bump in the southern night.
The often bizarre family quarrels are sometimes much more interesting than the supernatural elements which happen seldom but are effectivly told.
This is really in the tradition of movies like Hush ... Hush Sweet Charlotte or serials like Dark Shadows. McDowell had a thing for the southern setting (Cold Moon over Babylon, The Amulet, The Elementals) before moving on to his historical horror novels (Gilded Needles and Katie), his pseudonymous crime novels with gay detectives and finally Hollywood (Beetlejuice, The Nightmare before Christmas).
Blackwater is – as far as I know – one of its kind, a horror family saga spanning 4 decades which manages to take its rather ludicrous horror concept seriously. I know this isn´t for everyone, and it is no wonder that this novel is kind of forgotten like the writer, who died very early in 1999. But I am very fond of it as it is very well written and has a offbeat, fun concept. For me it held up for multiple reading which I can´t say for a lot of the american horror fiction of this time.
These are great covers! I remember seeing lots of these back when I worked in a used bookstore in the late '80s/early '90s, but I never read them. Only in the past year have I actually read any of McDowell's work, and I'm always on the lookout for more.
I agree, these are great covers, I also like the ones of the U.K. Versions, also featuring great atmospheric art that really captures the feel of these novels.
I have reread the series many times since discovering them in the 80's, they are well written, suspenseful, full of great, unforgetable characters and creepy situations. I'd reccomend these to everyone-
I found the 2 american omnibus volumes several years ago, both signed by Michael, these are pride of my collection.
I remember those gorgeous covers well! As a teenager I scoured all the local used bookshops (Plural! Ah, those were the days...) until I'd gathered all six, determined not to start the first one until I had them all. Then they just sat on my shelf like an obscure trophy until I eventually had to oust them to make space for something else. Silly me.
I've since read McDowell's The Elementals, a lovely slice of eccentric southern gothic meets my favourite episode of Blake's 7 ("Sand" by Tanith Lee). Maybe I should hunt down Blackwater again. It does (still!) sound very much my kind of thing.
I read it at the time, and as far as I remember it was strange. A departure from McDowell´s usually rather plot-driven work, this is told in first person. I have trouble to remember the exact plot, it was one of those descent into madness pieces.
Dell Abyss was a good place for this, one of the few novels which succcedded in their "sophisticated" horror approach; most of the books where boring pretentious junk without decent endings. It had even a photo spread, one of those trippy bw photos.
A strange one, but interesting.
I never bothered with the one completed by Mrs. King.