April 2021 marked the release of the long-anticipated quarantine-written novel from Jason Heaton. For those unfamiliar with Jason’s work, he is one of the most respected journalists in the adventure gear and watch spaces. Most potential readers are familiar with Jason’s work from Gear Patrol, HODINKEE, and as the co-host of the Podcast, The Grey NATO.
Depth Charge is the first novel by Heaton. His debut as a novelist is a thriller that includes a solid foundation of what he knows best: adventure, gear, history, and SCUBA diving. Heaton made two smart decisions in the early stages of writing Depth Charge. One, to self-publish under his own label, Swimpruf Press. This allowed the author to write the story that he wanted to tell without being overly influenced by literary agents and commercial editors. Secondly, Heaton consulted plenty of experts about more advanced SCUBA techniques and so on. This was not taken lightly as there are several pages of gracious acknowledgments at the end.
Like most modern thrillers, and every James Bond story, Depth Charge sets the tone by getting intense within the first few pages. The suspense of the underwater situation combined with the technical explanations that begin the novel were enough to get me hooked. This isn’t touristy SCUBA diving. The dives found in Depth Charge push the limits of even the most seasoned commercial divers.
“Get a grip, Mac!” Aitkens shouted to his partner. “You’ve got plenty of gas, so just calm down and figure it out.” No reply, besides more breathing and grunting from McElroy.Depth Charge
I assume the novel’s heroes, Tusker and Sam, are loosely based on the Heaton and his wife Gishani. Both are more than capable in an aquatic environment. Heaton was cleverly able to fall in love with his wife again through his storytelling, and he portrays Sam as more than a “Bond Girl” collecting conch shells in a bikini – though Sam does have a bikini and a knife.
“On her wrist he noticed a beat-up Seiko diving watch hanging loosely on a metal band. Her hair was shiny black, knotted in a braid that hung over her right shoulder. She had a pair of Ray-Ban aviators perched atop her head. He suddenly realized he was staring at her.”Depth Charge
There were some pacing issues midway through the novel, and it began to slow down for me. This was partly due to intra-island travel and descriptions of tertiary characters. However, the plot quickly picked back up. The real test of a thriller is how early in the book it becomes a page-turner. It wasn’t until act three that I found myself staying up too late pushing for just a few more pages of excitement. In my opinion, the final stretch was where Heaton really hit his stride – or, at least, that’s when I got fully swept up. Your mileage will most certainly vary.
I’m a big World War II history buff, especially when it comes to naval operations in the Pacific Theater. Heaton’s reference to the sinking of the HMS Hermes and HMAS Vampire in 1942 made me appreciate the length that he went to in order to carefully build the plot leading up to a chain of present-day events that are fictionalized in Depth Charge. Heaton even nods to freshwater diving, old Land Rovers, and “most certainly, watches.”
Heaton’s strong writing ability presented itself throughout the novel making unfamiliar names and locations mixed with technical diving explanations fluid for the average reader. Depth Charge is available in paperback (272 pages) directly from the author’s website (signed copy) or on Amazon for $14.99 (Kindle $2.99). That’s a no-brainer compared to the price point of most “watch books” enthusiasts purchase. As a literary work Depth Charge is a solid “B”. In terms of a fun beach chair reader for the summer it’s an “A”. Dive in and go for it.