Review: Palace of the Drowned by Christine Mangan

cover of Palace of the Drowned by Christine ManganPalace of the Drowned by Christine Mangan
Flatiron Books (June 2021)
320 pages; hardcover $20.57; paperback $16.99; e-book $14.99
Reviewed by Janelle Janson

When I saw Christine Mangan had a new book coming out, I jumped at the chance to read it. I read her debut, Tangerine, three years ago and really enjoyed it. After finishing her newest novel, Palace of the Drowned, I realized Mangan has found her niche. Hollywood film-style noir, brimming with atmosphere, and mixed with slow burning tension is what Mangan does best.

Mangan sets the scene in 1966 where British novelist Frances “Frankie” Croy was hit hard by an anonymous review of her latest book. Frankie is a nervous, skittish person with a jumpy, nonsensical imagination. She seeks refuge from this humiliating review and a tabloid scandal, and heads to Venice to stay at her friend Jack’s family’s vacant palazzo.

Much like Tangerine, Palace of the Drowned is set in an exotic location during a meaningful historic period. This one takes place during the Great Flood which leaves Venice nearly six feet under water, with flooded homes, no power, gas, or working phones. It’s ominous, dark, and deserted, which sets the tone perfectly for what happens next.

“I knew it was you,” the girl cried, pulling her close, into something that would have resembled a hug, had Frankie’s body yielded to the movement. “Oh, God, it’s been ages, but I knew it was you.”

“Do we know one another?” Frankie asked, stepping back.

“The girl’s hands flew to her face and she laughed. “Oh, goodness, you don’t remember.” . . .

Mangan’s writing is a nice homage to writers like Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene, and Raymond Chandler, with a healthy splash of Alfred Hitchcock’s signature style. Her prose is lush, beautiful, and oozing with nagging suspense — what I would classify as superb gothic fiction. In fact, Christine Mangan has a Ph.D in English from the College University Dublin, with a focus on 18th-century Gothic literature. She received her MFA from the University of Southern Maine and traveled extensively to research her debut. Christine Mangan is one sharp cookie. Also, fun fact: Tangerine has been optioned for a film by George Clooney’s production company, Smokehouse Pictures, starring Scarlett Johansson.

Mangan is clever with her plot devices as she usually focuses on complex, unsettling female relationships, and that’s exactly what she does in Palace of the Drowned. We are introduced to Gilly Larson, as Frankie runs into her in what seems to be a suspicious encounter while on the Grand Canal. Gilly is young, vivacious, confident, and an admirer of her work. She claims to have met her before, and although Frankie cannot place her, assumes it must be her friend’s daughter.

Gilly is an aspiring writer and doesn’t mince words. She comes off as innocent, harmless, and sweet, but she has a more insidious plan. At first Frankie welcomes the intrusion, but then the walls start to close in and she finds herself in a treacherous situation. The atmosphere runs rampant as Frankie’s residence is festered with mysterious noises and Venice itself feels haunted. I mean, the palazzo where Frankie is staying loosely translates from Italian to “Palace of the Drowned.”

Is this your typical Cemetery Dance horror recommendation? Absolutely not. However, if you are a reader who enjoys horror, but also enjoys a gothic, evocative, tension-filled story set in remarkable places with characters that keep you on edge, I highly recommend you give this one a shot.

Hi, my name is Janelle! I am a voracious reader, freelance writer, and reviewer. Currently, I write for Tor Nightfire and Cemetery Dance. I enjoy reading books from all types of genres, however, I do have my favorites. My first and forever true loves are horror, thriller, and true crime. I read my first Stephen King book at age seven and I’ve never looked back. In addition to books, I enjoy art, coffee, and all things animals. I am a firm believer that animals are better than people and deserve this planet more than we do. I am a true crime sleuth and a dilettante puzzle solver. I currently reside in Northern California with my husband, two kittens, and an oversized puppy.

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