Beneath Cruel Waters

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Pub Date 21 Jun 2022 | Archive Date Not set

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Holt Davidson, a Kansas firefighter, hasn’t been back to his hometown of Thompsonville, Colorado, for more than two decades, but when he learns that his estranged mother has taken her own life, he returns for the funeral, hoping to make peace with her memory. He spends the night at his childhood home, rummaging through each room, exploring the past. But instead of nostalgic souvenirs, he discovers a gun, a love letter, and a Polaroid photograph of a man lying in his own blood.

Who is the dead man? Was his mother the one who killed him, and, if so, why? Who sent the love letter? And what role did his sister, institutionalized since she was a teenager, play in this act of violence? As his own traumatic memories begin to resurface, Holt begins an investigation into his mother’s and sister’s pasts—as well as his own.

A wrenching psychological thriller in the vein of Tana French’s In the Woods, Jon Bassoff’s Beneath Cruel Waters reminds us that the sins of the mothers are the sins of the sons.

Holt Davidson, a Kansas firefighter, hasn’t been back to his hometown of Thompsonville, Colorado, for more than two decades, but when he learns that his estranged mother has taken her own life, he...

Advance Praise

“Jon Bassoff’s writing is as gritty as a bloodstained baby blanket. His latest, Beneath Cruel Waters, is a disturbing tale of secrets and sins that challenges the myths at the heart of a most dangerous institution—the family. This relentless exposure of one man’s destructive re-creation of his forgotten past rejects and then recasts assumptions about the redemptive power of forgiveness and the saving grace of the truth. Readers beware. Buckle up for a nightmarish trip through more than one level of American hell.”

-Manuel Ramos, author of Angels in the Wind

“The antidote to every sappy, saccharine story you’ve ever read. Jon Bassoff is the master of the bleak. No one makes desperate characters and their miserable plights so entertaining.”

-Mario Acevedo, author of the Felix Gomez vampire-detective series

“I’ve read and loved all of Bassoff’s previous novels, but this one hit me hard. It scars. A haunting, beautifully written, breathlessly tense, dread-filled meditation on guilt and memory that will linger in your mind long after you’ve read it.”

-Ivan Kavanagh, director of Never Grow Old, starring John Cusack

“Brilliant, dark, compelling, and heartbreaking…Filled with unexpected twists and brutal truths, the novel will stay with you long after you finish it. Settle in for a new Colorado classic.”

-David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Edgar and Anthony-nominated author of Winter Counts

“A haunting, lyrical tale of family madness and the sins of the past from which we can never wash ourselves clean. Beneath Cruel Waters is a twisty, page-turning novel.”

-Barbara Nickless, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Sydney Parnell crime novels

“Jon Bassoff proves he’s not only a master of horror but can weave a chilling noir. A slow-burning tale of generational suffering that inches its way toward heartbreaking reveals for a family in desperate need of hope and deliverance.”

-Aaron Philip Clark, author of Under Color of Law

“A cleverly constructed morality tale…In a style reminiscent of Raymond Carver, Jon Bassoff is a master at creating a world that’s both simple and complex.”

-Charles Salzberg, Shamus Award–nominated author of the Henry Swann novels

“Jon Bassoff’s writing is as gritty as a bloodstained baby blanket. His latest, Beneath Cruel Waters, is a disturbing tale of secrets and sins that challenges the myths at the heart of a most...

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ISBN 9781799938880
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Featured Reviews

It’s been twenty years since Holt Davidson has been back to the Colorado town he called home. Eager to escape his controlling mother and his sister, locked away in a mental institution since her teenage years, Holt started a new life in Kansas. Now, after the suicide of his mother, Holt returns home, hoping to lay the past to rest. What he uncovers is a bizarre and shocking mystery – a gun and a photograph of a man lying in a pool of blood. Was his mother the shooter? Or did his emotionally unstable sister have something to do with it. Bassoff is an author to watch, this story is a complex, multilayered mystery that put me in mind of Jane Harper

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Blackstone Publishing,
Thank You for this eARC!

Beneath Cruel Waters
By Jon Bassoff

Here we have Holt, A firefighter living in Kansas.
He hasn't been back to his small hometown of Thompsonville, Colorado, for almost twenty years. But after learning that his estranged mother has sadly taken her own life, he goes back for the funeral, hoping to make truce with her memory.
Staying in his childhood home and going through each room taking a trio down memory lane.
I stayed of emotional souvenirs, he finds a love letter, a gun and a photograph of A strange man lying in his very own blood!

Did his mother kill this man? And who is he? And who could have possibly sent this letter? Could his unstable sister have played a role in any of this?
He soon starts feeling the past catch up to him and memories begin to come to light.
Holt starts his own investigation into his mother’s and sister’s pasts as well as his own.

This is my first book written by Jon. And it was honestly better than I expected!
A creative and fascinating novel. That had me reading until early morning hours.
It captivated me with it’s puzzling mystery and beautifully written story.
Our characters I couldn't have been any more intrigued than I already was.
The moments spent with these characters were exciting and suspenseful.
This intricate plot takes you on a full investigation from beginning to climactic end. There are many twists and surprises which keep ramping up the stakes and tension throughout the story. 
I thought the mystery itself was interesting, it had several layers to it and kept you engaged as the facts began to reveal themselves.

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Jon Bassoff is one of the best and most prolific writers working today. This book is full of drama, family secrets, deception, lies, and human frailty. This book is phenomenal in every way. So different from his other works I've read, but just as powerful and captivating. This is a book not to be skipped.

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This is not a lighthearted read and has some triggers but if you're not of the faint of heart, this will become you're first 5 star read of 2022!

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In Beneath Cruel Waters, a troubled Holt Davidson is forced to return to his Thompsonville, Colorado hometown for the funeral of his even more troubled mother. A long-time neighbor and friend of Holt’s mother has called Holt to tell him his mother’s body had been found hanging from a tree by suicide, causing Holt to return to a place he left many years ago after hoping never to return.

Holt grew up in a difficult home. His father abandoned his family, his sister Olphelia was removed from the home and institutionalized for mental illness when Holt was just five and his mother became obsessively fixated on religion and a search for redemption.

On his return home and when in his mother’s bedroom, Holt discovers a hidey-hole in the floorboards, and inside is a revolver, a Polaroid photograph of a gunshot murdered man, and an unsigned love letter Holt believes was intended for his mother.

Holt then attempts to unravel the meaning of the discoveries and finds along the way each discovery will return him to a past no one really will benefit from if fully revealed, including those suppressed memories within his own subconscious.

With so many secrets in existence, many of them subconsciously with just enough of a presence to tease snippets of long-forgotten memories to the surface, Holt is forced to look backward to a life he fled, ending with what he knows will be drastic repercussions on his future life.

Beneath Cruel Waters is a well-written, darkly themed novel with an interesting plot and comes with an atmosphere of rural or country noir in a setting where many things are not always what they seem to be. Some readers have expressed the novel is bleak and harsh, but readers familiar with Bassoff’s writing will not be surprised or disappointed.

Bassoff’s writing is lyrically crafted and in a manner not to be overly descriptive with wasted and unnecessary verbiage, with him creating a dark and ominous novel with well-developed characters.

Beneath Cruel Waters is with violent depictions, however, they are necessary for the telling of the story and not done in a gratuitous manner.

While I would have preferred a stronger ending, Beneath Cruel Waters is highly recommended to readers that enjoy darker fiction.

Netgalley provided an ARC of Beneath Cruel Waters for the promise of a fair review and is set to be published in May of 2022.

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Dark thriller full of family drama. The Davidson family has a been dealt a bad hand in this game of life. This book will keep you guessing until the end. Very well written, but don’t expect to feel good, it’s sad and depressing.

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Thank you Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book before publication.

TRIGGER WARNING: All of them except animal cruelty

My first 5 star review of 2022!!!!!


Holt Davidson returns to his childhood town after his mother dies by suicide. As Holt tries to figure out what led to his mother's death, he inadvertently finds the answers to the "troubles" that haunted his older sister, Ophelia.


Inhale. Exhale. Just... WOW. I honestly requested this book because a majority of the reviews mentioned how well-written it is. The synopsis didn't really speak to me, but since writing quality is VERY important to me and I've endured so many duds lately, I thought why tf not?? And I'm glad I took a chance.

I literally read this book in one sitting. It's hard to describe Bassoff's writing style; it's not flowery, but yet he skillfully creates an atmosphere of dread, struggle, and spookiness. I love his sentence structure; the rules of 3 babyyyyy. It's straightforward, but rhythmic. I can't explain it. But I love it.

This is not your mainstream thriller. This is a character study. You spend a lot of time in each character's inner thoughts. I enjoyed all three POVs. Bassoff did a wonderful job carving out a particular tone for Vivian (the mom), Ophelia (the sister), and Holt. It was pretty obvious how everything was going to unfold, but you know from the writing it's not going for shock value. This is an everyday tragedy in a small town ruled by religion. You feel allll the emotions. You contemplate alllll the decisions.

This novel tackles very sensitive and disturbing topics. This is why writing quality is important; a less talented author would cheapen these traumatic experiences. I do not recommend this book to anyone just looking for a wild ride of the "Stay Awake" variety. This book will weigh heavy on your heart. It's disturbing. It doesn't do religion any favours. Everything is depressing. But since I'm a sicko who likes to wade in the deep end of emotional disturbance, I loved it.


Pros: Beautiful and astute writing
Cons: None for me, but just another warning: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. Yes, this is fiction, but the storylines are extremely REAL. You will feel disturbed.

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**I received a free copy of this book in exchange of an honest review**

This was a dark, & eerie phenomenal read! The story starts off very suspenseful when a woman enters a creepy house to murder a man. After she kills the man the house remains empty and abandoned for many years. I have a fascination for abandoned buildings so I loved the detailed descriptions on how the house remained during the different seasons. I was instantly hooked and immersed in the story.

The story kept up with this eerie feel throughout the remainder of the book. There was so much mystery surrounding the life of Vivian the mom, Holt her son who returns to his hometown after many years to attend his mothers funeral & Ophelia the sister who gets sent to a psychiatric hospital. So many secrets come to light that left me shocked. I found myself locked and in tune with the family dynamic of this very twisted family. I had so many emotions while reading this story! One word to sum it all up is that this story is just simply very Dark!

For fans of thrillers, horror & suspense, this is a must read trust me!

💀💀💀💀💀 out of 5

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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this novel.
This gut punch of a story is deserving of any and all praise it receives. The tale is expertly crafted with each narrator having their own unique voice. The highest praise I can give Mr Bassoff is that I’ve already purchased a couple of his previous works and will add his next novel to my must-read list as soon as it’s announced.

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Death, betrayal, madness, heartache, and as the title states – cruelty – was an apt description of Beneath Cruel Waters. Within these pages were some very dark, very bleak, long-held family secrets.

12th November, 1984 – A woman breaks into a dilapidated farmhouse on the outskirts of Thompsonville, Colorado, and shoots the sole tenant three times in the chest. Then once he’s dead she takes a Polaroid photo of him.

Fall, 2018 – The same woman returns to the farmhouse thirty-four-years later, and commits suicide by hanging herself from a cottonwood tree.

Now that I think about it, I’ve probably mislead you in my synopsis, so I’ll just get this out of the way and state that this book was not a thriller. There was mystery, and suspense, but it was more of a tragic family drama involving suppressed traumatic memories, and the destructive nature and crippling effects of guilt and shame.

The writing, characters, and dialogue were all excellent – descriptive, real, and evocative, and I particularly enjoyed the prologue that followed a certain ‘house’ in the intervening years between timelines one and two (1984-2018). So clever and unique, it succeeded in sucking me into the story. There were few character’s to keep track of, just three main ones from the Davidson family – Holt in the present, and his mother Vivian, and older sister, Ophelia in the past. Aside from that there were only a handful of other people in the entire book.

Content warnings for topics you’d typically find in a V.C. Andrews novel (think sin). Just to be clear, it was never crude (well okay some of the dialogue was) or gratuitous but definitely distressing and emotional draining. This novel also reminded me a little of Alfred Hitchcock’s, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), a movie that I love.

And nostalgia alert, the author completely captured the vibe of the mid-80’s with pop culture, and music references.

Savvy readers will have a pretty clear idea where this is going fairly early on, but there were still some shocks and clues I was confused over, and I liked how it all came together in a tumultuous conclusion. Jon Bassoff is an author I’d definitely read again.

I’d like to thank Netgalley, Blackstone Publishing, and Jon Bassoff for the e-ARC.

Look out for this title on the 10th May, 2022.

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Holt comes back to town for his mother's funeral after she takes her own life. He goes through her things trying to make sense of her suicide and finds a gun, a love letter, and a picture of a dead man. The story follows different timelines as Holt tries to figure out what these items mean.

This book was SO good. This writing is superb and the plot was phenomenal. The story is so tragic and it brought me to tears in some places and made me want to scream "Why are you doing this!?" in others. I thought I had one element figured out in the end but was shocked when I finally found out the truth. You absolutely need to add this book to your list!

Thank you to Netgalley and Blackstone Publishing for providing my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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Holt is from Thompsonville, Colorado but hasn’t been back to visit for more than 20 years. When he receives news about his mother’s suicide he returns to his hometown. He spends the night at his mother’s home where he grew up and finds a number of disturbing items including a gun, a love letter, and a photograph of a man lying in this own blood. So many questions are raised by these items. With his mother gone, will Holt ever be able to get some answers?

I love psychological thrillers, it is my favorite genre by a large margin. BENEATH CRUEL WATERS is a spectacular example of a great psychological thriller. The amount of creativity and imagination that the author needed to create this story is amazing. I have not read many books with such a wild storyline and I simply could not put the book down. The twists left my head spinning in the best way!

Many thanks to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

This review will be posted to my Instagram Blog ( in the near future.

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This is the first book I read by Jon Bassoff, and I can tell you with certainty that it will not be my last.

I was completely blown away with Beneath Cruel Waters. The writing style was flawless and completely consumed me as a reader. It was if everything was going on right before my eyes. The details were executed with precision.

I have been on a 5 star streak lately and I promise I am not being generous. I typically can be considered judgmental at times especially with the amount of books I have read. Beneath Cruel Waters, is a book you can easily finish in one sitting. If it were not for my starving husband, I would not have even stopped to cook dinner. Although, I will tell you, the entire time I was cooking I could not stop thinking about this book and I was eager to get back to it!

The character development in this book is top notch. Never had I read anything in my life that webbed these characters together the was Bassoff, was able to do. The amount of emotions I felt while reading was uncanny. Bassoff is an author that needs to be on everyone's radar. He is a true mastermind and I can not wait to see what he comes out with next.

Due out May 10th, you do not want to miss this one!

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A tragically dark and unputdownable novel.

In 1984, single mother Vivian Davidson walked into the home of a man, shot him dead, and took a polaroid picture of his dead body. In 2018, she returned to the same location and killed herself.

Holt Davidson has just received word of his mother’s death. A firefighter who has never settled down, he returns to his hometown in Colorado for the first time in years. Searching through his mother’s belongings results in more questions…instead of answers. Why would she have a polaroid of a dead man? Why is there a love letter included with that?

The past is never buried.

WOW! Thanks to my GR friend, NZLisa, for putting this on my radar. It was even better than I anticipated.

Beneath Cruel Waters is a dark, disturbing mystery and domestic drama. I wouldn’t call it a slow burn, but everything about it plays out quietly…and yet I was enthralled! I couldn’t put it down, and I have author Jon Bassoff to thank for that.

Bassoff writes beautifully and knows just the right way to hook readers. The main twists aren’t shocking per se, but are still handled expertly. There are some surprises in store when heading towards the denouement, and I fully appreciated that it took some turns I never expected.

This book is heavy. There is no joy to be found in the story itself, but it’s so damn satisfying. There are also plenty of TW’s which I won’t discuss. Luckily, animal harm isn’t one of them. Everything will be revealed by the end, but don’t look for a happy and corny epilogue. You won’t find it here.

This is a 2022 standout, and I highly recommend it. It’s disturbing and atmospheric, and Bassoff writes with aplomb.

Thank you to Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Expected Publication Date: 5/10/22.

Review also posted at:

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A GUN, A LETTER and a PHOTOGRAPH of a man lying in his own blood.

That’s what Holt Davidson discovers, when he returns to his hometown following his mother’s suicide, after nearly two decades away.

Did his mother kill this man? If so, why? And, who wrote the love letter?!

His sister Ophelia, like Hamlet’s Ophelia, has been diagnosed as mentally ill, and she has been institutionalized since she was a teenager. Could her breakdown be related to the items he discovered?

Holt is determined to find out…



His mother tried her best to be devout…to believe…but sometimes baptism isn’t enough to save you….

I’ll admit-when I first began the book, I was afraid it was going to focus too much on Religion, for my personal taste.

The story is EVOCATIVE but despite some elements of suspense it isn’t a thriller -it is more character driven as in literary fiction, and it quickly drew me in. Before I knew it, I had reached the conclusion of this MELANCHOLY story.

Although I had a good sense of where this story was headed, I didn’t get everything right.

If you are looking for something different-and don’t mind a steady reveal, as opposed to shocking twists, I recommend picking this one up on May 10, 2022!

I am glad that I did!

Thank You to Blackstone for the gifted ARC. It was my pleasure to offer a candid review!

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This is my first Bassoff book and after reading this I am scrambling to grab everything else he has ever written. His prose reminds me of all of the great Black Lizard authors (Thompson, Goodis, Williford).

There are no ghosts in this story, but the characters in BENEATH CRUEL WATERS are haunted. By the past. By their family. By a life lived unfulfilled. Throughout the novel you are shown how much the past can weigh on a soul and just how much a person can take before they crumble beneath it.

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Firefighter Holt Davidson returns to his hometown in Thompsonville, Colorado after over twenty years for his mother’s funeral after she commits suicide by hanging herself from a tree. While sorting through his mother’s belongings in his childhood home he finds an old Polaroid photo of a dead man, an old music box, a love letter and a gun hidden underneath the floorboards of his mother’s room. His mother Vivian was a devout church-going woman and a kindergarten teacher who raised both her children as a single mother after Holt’s father abandoned them before he was even born. His older sister Ophelia who he has not seen for over thirty years had been institutionalized on account of mental illness when Holt was a child, though Holt does have some fond memories of her. His mother’s suicide and the discovery of these hidden objects raise questions in Holt’s mind. Who is this dead man and why does his mother have a picture of him? Who wrote that letter to his mother? What prompted his devout mother to take her own life? What happened to his sister thirty years ago that led to her being committed? As the story progresses Holy leaves no stone unturned in finding answers in an attempt to unravel the mysteries surrounding his family. In the course of his search, he also must face his own suppressed memories, face his sister who now resides in a care home and wade through the sea of lies, deception and secrets that destroyed his family.

Beneath Cruel Waters by Jon Basoff is a dark, atmospheric and absorbing read. Though some content might be disturbing for some, the author does exercise considerable restraint in describing sensitive topics such as religion, suicide and mental illness. The well-paced and gripping narrative switches between 1984 and the present-day ( 2018) and takes us through Holt’s childhood and his mother’s life as a single parent and his present-day experiences in his hometown. The writing is crisp and concise without any unnecessary embellishment. Each of the characters in this story is immensely flawed, complex and battling their own demons and each of their trajectories are very well-structured. This is not a particularly ”twisty” thriller and even though it is not difficult to predict some of the secrets that are gradually unraveled, the author does manage to keep the element of surprise going till the end. I was hooked to the story from the very first page and finished the book in one sitting.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for the digital review copy of this gripping read. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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It was clear as moonlight that this one was going to be dark with a capital “ark,” and not because the epigraph references Noah. The folk lyric “No more water, but fire next time” lays a damp washcloth over the reader’s eyes and the bleakness lingers until the bitter end of “Beneath Cruel Waters.” Suffice to say, I loved every excruciating minute of it.

On the road trip home to bury his mom, Holt Davidson sleeps with a waitress — notable because it’s just about the last thing that goes right for him. Burdened by the grief of his mother’s suicide, Davidson reluctantly peels back the layers of distorted memory that separate him from an excruciating childhood. What he finds is a macabre implosion on Main Street, forgotten but not gone.

An omnipresent sense of foreboding stalks the reader as Holt pieces together the story of his broken family. One can feel the knot in Davidson’s stomach tighten as he gets closer to a truth from his past so appalling, it might break him in the here and now.

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Holy crap, what did I just read! Man, oh man. So this one started out strong, then got a little slow but it most definitely picked up. The ending almost felt a little rushed but it was so good but so very sad. My heart broke for Ophelia and what her mother put her through and what she was forced to lie about. This book was hard to put down once it got started and I had to known what happened to Holt's sister, Ophelia. Definitely recommend.

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After his mother's suicide, Holt returns home for the funeral and makes a startling discovery. Beneath a loose floorboard in Vivian's room is a love note, a gun, and a photo of a murdered man. Haunted by his own past, Holt begins unearthing his dead, church-going mother's secrets and the events of 1984-1985 that ended in bloodshed and the lifelong institutionalizing of his sister.

Although the opening pages of Beneath Cruel Waters details Vivian murdering her ex-boyfriend, a violent ex-con named Reuben Ray, there's a surprising amount of mystery left to explore as the story unfolds between the past and present-day. Readers who make it through that first chapter and think they know it all will soon discovery they - and author Jon Bassoff - have really only scratched the surface. Even as further mysteries develop and additional complications wrinkle the story, some whose answers initially seem self-evident, Bassoff throws a few more curve balls to keep readers on their toes, right until the very end.

In some respects, this book reminds me a bit of a Penn & Teller magic show. We're shown the trick and given the big reveal right up front, and then we're taken behind the curtain for a thorough, laborious examination of all the various components and missing elements we weren't previously privy to that make the magic happen. Until, finally, all the cards on the table, and then the real magic happens.

I've been reading Jon Bassoff's books for a number of years now, and Beneath Cruel Waters is not only his greatest work to date, but also one of his absolute pitch-black darkest. In its excavations of a troubled family and the childhood memories, Bassoff explores the impermanence of memory, as well as the psychological impacts of grief and trauma, obsession, religious mania, and an absolutely insane level of gaslighting. Beneath Cruel Waters is a pitch-perfect, and thoroughly haunting, noir.

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First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jon Bassoff, and Blackstone Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Never one to shy away from adding new authors to my radar, I willingly agreed to try this book by Jon Bassoff. A psychological thriller like no other, Bassoff weaves a tale that is sure to capture the reader’s attention from the opening pages. Holt Davidson thought that he left his hometown in the rearview mirror, but receives a startling call one day. His mother has committed suicide, forcing Holt to make his way back to Colorado. What he finds is a collection of items that opens up a world of pain for Holt, as well as a pile of questions, some of which include his institutionalised sister. What follows is a secret that Holt may have wished he’d never tried to solve. Bassoff does well to keep the reader intrigued throughout, proving that he has something worth noticing.

While Holt Davidson has made a name for himself, he’s not returned to Thompsonville, Colorado, for years. All that changes when he learns that his mother committed suicide. Holt returns, in hopes of attending the funeral and making a quick exit back to Kansas, but that’s not in the cards. Instead, a night in his family home turns up some new mysteries.

Holt finds himself trying to make peace with his mother and the childhood he fled. When he finds a gun, a gory photograph, and a love letter from someone he does not know, the mystery only thickens. Holt will have to piece it all together, in hopes of learning what his mother did all those years ago.

If this were not enough, the mystery extends to Holt’s sister, who has been institutionalised for years. What role might she have played in the mystery and could sue hold additional clues as to what Holt has stumbled upon? Dark secrets re-emerge at the worst possible times, forcing Holt Davidson to face them before returning to his life in the Midwest. A great story that keeps the reader guessing until the final page turn.

While I love all things psych thriller, not all books are able to capture the essence of a chilling tale. Jon Bassoff does well to present his story in a straightforward fashion, while keeping the reader on their toes throughout the process. A strong underlying story is complemented by decent writing that adds the addictive factor many seek in books within the genre. While I was not as gobsmacked as many others who appear to have reviewed it, I can see strong writing abilities emerging throughout the reading journey.

Holt Davidson proves to be a worthwhile protagonist, holding his own as his life is turned upside down. He’s fairly level headed from start to finish, taking only a little time to appear shocked and in awe, particularly when things take turns he could not have predicted. Holt appears unsure how to handle much f what he learns, particularly when his memory of his childhood is fogged by a certain belief system. Bassoff does well to keep the reader wondering about this man and how his past collides with the present he thought he knew, keeping the narrative strong and the character development ever-present.

The sign of a great writer is one who can capture the reader’s attention from the early pages and hold it throughout. Bassoff does that here with a strong narrative style that does not stop, irrespective of what is going on around him. With strong characters and the ability to have them weather different timelines in the narrative, these individuals pop and come to life throughout the reading experience. Bassoff knows his craft and presents it well. Leaving me wondering things on numerous occasions. While I was not as stunned by what I read as many others, I appreciate the strength of the author’s ability and will look to see what else he has out there for me to try in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Bassoff, for a great piece that piqued my interest from the opening pages.

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EXCERPT: 'You can do better,' he said. 'But you knew that.'

'We all knew that!' Joyce said.

Mike glanced at his wife and then back at Vivian.

'Listen to me. He bothers you again, you let me know. And in the meantime, it's probably a good idea for you to make sure you can protect yourself.'

He reached into his pocket and took out a little .38 Special revolver and placed it on the counter.

Vivian shook her head. 'I don't need that Mike.'

'I'm sure you won't. But with a fellow like Ruben around, I just figured . . . well, only take it if you want to. Only if you feel comfortable.'

For a few moments, Vivian remained where she was. Mike and Joyce watched her, waiting. She squeezed her eyes shut and visualized Ruben and his dead fish eyes, and her skin began to itch and she wanted to scream.

She opened her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she took a few steps over to the counter. She grabbed the gun and held it in her hand.

It felt cold and heavy and terrible.

ABOUT 'BENEATH CRUEL WATERS': Holt Davidson, a Kansas firefighter, hasn’t been back to his hometown of Thompsonville, Colorado, for more than two decades, but when he learns that his estranged mother has taken her own life, he returns for the funeral, hoping to make peace with her memory. He spends the night at his childhood home, rummaging through each room, exploring the past. But instead of nostalgic souvenirs, he discovers a gun, a love letter, and a Polaroid photograph of a man lying in his own blood.

Who is the dead man? Was his mother the one who killed him, and, if so, why? Who sent the love letter? And what role did his sister, institutionalized since she was a teenager, play in this act of violence? As his own traumatic memories begin to resurface, Holt begins an investigation into his mother’s and sister’s pasts—as well as his own.

MY THOUGHTS: 'The past tortures the present.'

The timeline moves between the past, the 1970/80s and 2018, and Holt's, Vivian's and Ophelia's perspectives.

Beneath Cruel Waters is a dark and disturbing psychological family drama with layers of obfuscation, lies and secrets.

Vivian is a single mother, lonely, and becomes obsessed with religion. She has a brother, Bobby, who blows in and out of her life like the restless, rootless soul he is, but other than that, appears to have no other family. She believes that if you ignore something for long enough, it will go away.

Ophelia is the older of Vivian's two children. She is a teenager, full of hormones and angst and starved of love. She idolises her Uncle Bobby, fantasizing about going on the road with him, writing songs and making music.

Holt is her much younger brother. Ophelia both loves and resents him. As a child, he witnesses many things he doesn't understand. As an adult, he is haunted by snatches of memory, some conflicting. Although it's not his intention, when he returns home for his mother's funeral he finds himself trying to make sense of these memories.

Beneath Cruel Waters is written in a quiet, almost dispassionate manner. The pace is steady. There's no fireworks, no fanfare, no tricks - just good, plain storytelling. It's not a story that I could say I 'enjoyed' - it's far too melancholy for that; but it gripped and consumed and ate away at me until I read the last word and closed the cover, relieved that I hadn't been born into that family.

If you're looking for a thriller, Beneath Cruel Waters isn't it. The same applies if you're looking for a HAE. But if you're looking for characters that are going to crawl from the page into your head, you've found them. But a warning; these characters are like earworm. Once they're in your head, they're near impossible to get rid of. And other than the tragic Ophelia (how could she be anything but with her name?) you're not going to like them. You may feel sorry for them, for their circumstances, but you won't like them.


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I: @jonbassoff @blackstonepublishing

T: @jonbassoff @BlackstonePub1

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THE AUTHOR: For his day job, Bassoff teaches high school English where he is known by students and faculty alike as the deranged writer guy. He is a connoisseur of tequila, hot sauces, psychobilly music, and flea-bag motels.

DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Blackstone Publishing via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Beneath Cruel Waters by Jon Bassoff for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.

For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my profile or the about page on

This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and my webpage.

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Unquestionably a 5 star rating !

Holt returns to his hometown after the suicide of his estranged mother. Once in his childhood home, he find a polaroid of a dead man, a love letter and a small revolver. Because he wants to understand his mothers' final deed, he starts digging. Who is the dead man? Why did his mother keep a strange love letter? What about the revolver? His quest brings him to his mom best friend, but also to his sister who was institutionalized as a teen. He was barely five when this happened, but he still remembers his beautiful, vibrant sister very well.

Of course, nothing good can come out of his search for truth, which is very grim for sure. The more I advanced in the story, the more dread and gloomy scenarios played out in my mind, and with every step it turned out to be even bleaker than expected. Be aware, this is not a cheerful book, and if mental illness, child abuse or religious fanaticism triggers you, then stay well away.

This melancholy story is being told by three people: Vivian the mother, Holt the little brother and Ophelia, his big sister. These three characters are so well drawn, so real flesh and bones that they could be your own family, that's how well I feel to know them now. It also makes me feel that their story is a bit mine, that's how invested I was in this family chronicle.

I just need to add how I liked the writing. Fluent and rhythmic sentences; delightful imagery with a lot of music on the backdrop and realistic dialogues. Don't be put off by the dark themes, if anything this is your must read of 2022. Bravo !

A most sincere thanks to NetGalley, Blackstone publishing and Jon Bassoff for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

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This was such a tension filled story yet so melancholy at the same time.. I was totally mesmerised by the plot despite figuring some things out early on. (I think the reader is meant to figure these things out and it doesn't make the tale any less captivating.)

A mess of secrets, misguided love, loyalty, grief and ultimately consequences. I found myself unable to look away and almost holding my breath at times.

The final pages held a clever reveal and a heartbreaking revelation.

This will definitely be going on our library's buying list.

I received this arc from netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

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I thought this book was dark and at times gut wrenching in its depictions of a family fractured but that was the point, For me to feel and feel i did. The characters all had a depth and watching there innocence at times morph into something darker with the passage of time was sometimes hard to see but still well worth the read, its a wonderful book with fantastic writing. The truth is not all books will leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling at the end. Some will leave you breathless a little sad and with a sense of no real finality. just like life itself witch i think again is deliberate by the author. I thought it was a fantastic book. I will warn there are some dark themes involving rape and things in the rape family so be advised before reading if those things trigger you but aside from that i loved the book. Will definitely be checking out more by this author.

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Here that?

That is me finally releasing the breath I didn't even realize I was holding.

Oh my, was this ever good and sad, so very sad.

Holt, a fireman, returns home to Colorado to attend the funeral of his mother who recently killed herself. It has been decades since he has last seen his mom or returned to his hometown. While roaming around his childhood home he makes a discovery that has him questioning everything he was meant to believe.

"A gun, a photograph, and a letter."

We go back to the 80's when Holt was a five year old happy-go-lucky kid living with his kind and loving mother, Vivian, and his exuberant 16 year old sister, Ophelia, whom he thinks is the most amazing person in the world.

He remembers when things got bad too. When Ophelia was ripped from their house kicking and screaming with the men in white. When his mother turned to the Bible with a fanatics ferocity in the wake of what happened. When his world turned from good to bad in what seemed a matter of minutes.

This is Holts story and it's about as heartbreaking as a story can get. There are no winners here. It's bleak from start to finish. My heart aches for these broken souls, these broken people who only wanted to do right but in the end got it all so wrong.

"The past tortures the present."

While this story is like a punch to the gut Basoff's writing is nothing short of exquisite. I am in awe of what he accomplished here. I wanted to reach into the pages to hug some, to shake others, and to kill a few. I have a feeling I'll be thinking about Holt for a long time to come. 5 stars!

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for my complimentary copy.

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Thoroughly enjoyed this! This was a mystery made for me - multiple timelines and a character returning to their small hometown to uncover secrets. I could not put this book down! I had to know what was going to happen and how it would affect our main character Holt. Heartbreaking, mysterious, and entertaining.

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Beneath Cruel Waters
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Format: Kindle eBook
Date Published: 6/21/22
Author: Jon Bassoff
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Pages: 313
Goodreads Rating: 4.48

TW ⚠️: Mental Illness, religion, and suicide.

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for providing a digital copy of the book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

Synopsis: Holt Davidson returns for his mothers funeral after she commits suicide. In his childhood home, instead of nostalgic souvenirs, he discovers a gun, a love letter, and a Polaroid photograph of a man lying in his own blood. Who is the dead man? Was his mother the one who killed him, and, if so, why? Who sent the love letter? As his own traumatic memories begin to resurface, Holt begins an investigation into his mother’s and sister’s pasts—as well as his own.

My Thoughts: This is categorized as a thriller but I feel it is more of a literary fiction. The story is narrated by the three MCs, Holt, Ophelia (sister), and Vivian (mother), by their own perspectives, respectively with dual timelines from 1984 and the present. This is a character driven book and a great character driven book. The characters were dark, complex, had depth, having to deal with their own personal demons, and just wow! The author’s writing style flowed so well, was complex, emotional, disturbing (in a good way, if there can be a good way), and while not twisty, there was definitely a suspense aspect to it. The writing was also so descriptive, that I felt as I was right there with Holt on this journey. While to story was very sad, I still enjoyed this book immensely. Please do yourself a favor and preorder this book today!!!!

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Beneath Cruel Waters

Jon Bassoff

Thank you Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC

Beneath Cruel Waters follows Holt Davidson as he returns to his hometown to attend his mother’s funeral.  He finds him so going through things in his childhood home that brings up memories and questions.  

This is my first book by Jon Bassoff, and although it wasn’t what I had expected, I couldn’t put it down.

This book is heavy, tense and sad.   You get to venture into three pov’s, Holt, Vivian and Ophelia.  And it’s a great deal of darkness. The writing is beautifully disturbing.  There are many sensitive subjects in this book, but very well done.  I highly recommend this book, it will weigh on you, but it’s so worth it.  


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This book takes place across two time periods, 2018 and 1984-85. In 2018, Holt, a firefighter, has just learned that his estranged mother has committed suicide. When he goes back home for the funeral, he discovers some disturbing items hidden away under a floorboard in her house: a polaroid photo of a dead body, a gun, a love letter of unknown origin. Investigating these items leads him down a rabbit hole into a tangled web of dark secrets long buried.

The main character, Holt, is pretty bland in the beginning. He seems somehow both intimately involved in and not all that important to the real story, which is the mystery of why his mother killed herself, what the items under the floorboard mean, and what happened in the 1980s. He’s just the guy putting the pieces together and at first, his connection is just that the mystery involves his family and that’s what drives him to look into it, but as the mystery unravels, he finds that he’s the only person left who holds the final pieces, which are only vague memories from childhood. The story is really all about the other characters: his mother Vivian, his sister Ophelia, his uncle Bobby, and mother’s ex-boyfriend Ruben. And Holt plays a fairly minor role – or so it seems at first.

This is a mystery novel, though an atypical one, and the secrets unearthed over the course of it are disturbing. The pacing of the book is a little uneven – it’s slow to start but picks up considerably towards the end as secrets are revealed and Holt’s memories are uncovered.

Representation: Asian side characters

CW: suicide, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, child abuse and neglect, religion-based abuse, rape, incest, mention of abortion, PTSD, depression, psychosis, delusions, gaslighting, murder of a child, false imprisonment

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BENEATH CRUEL WATERS was a very detailed and dark read. It was thought provoking and twisty. The suspense throughout this book made it a fast read.

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4.5 *
A psychological thriller with family drama that is very disturbing encountering many trigger warnings. You've been warned. It will not leave your mind, but put you on edge for the ones that fight their demons daily. All of the characters are battling within some form or fashion. Reaching into these characters' minds is depressing and emotionally disturbing, but it is a fictional book that you cannot put down. When the author is that talented to wrap all of the shocking details into one book and consume me to finish, you know he has done his job well.

The story begins in 1984 with Vivian walking into a house and shooting a man several times. In 2018, she returned to that house to kill herself. Unraveling this grim story is her son Holt who receives word his mother has committed suicide. Looking for answers, he uncovers a gun, a Polaroid picture of a man who had been shot. As he begins to question his mom's secrets and lies, memories flood his mind at different intervals in the story. Holt's sister, has spent 30 years in an institution. His memories are sketchy and chilling with visuals of his sister being carried out of the house by men in white uniforms.

For those of you who can handle all of the dark, grim and domestic violence with episodes of flashbacks then it will not bother you. The extreme religious beliefs was hard to stomach and does not conform to my beliefs, but stepping over that and putting it behind the real elements of the story will get you through this incredible fiction.

Thank you NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for this ARC in exchange for my review.

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Dark and gritty story, very engaging. Author is able to craft a story that pulls the reader right in.

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Beneath Cruel Waters is my first book by Jon Bassoff. This is a chilling, compelling and haunting read and must admit not for the faint-hearted. There are plenty of trigger warnings of violence, death and suicide. Jon's masterfully depicts and unveils deadly secrets and sins that shake the Davidson family's foundations. Returning to his hometown after two decades, Holt Davidson is not only mourning the loss of his mother but hidden demons that surface. This is magnified when he stumbles upon discovering a gun, a love letter, and a Polaroid photograph of a man lying in his blood - all clues to a repressive and destructive family secret. Immersed in this bleak and dark read, you are promised unforgettable twists and turns with an ending that might make you do a double-take. I feel I haven't left the daunting shackles of Thompsonville, Colorado, yet. A brilliant psychological thriller. Five stars all the way.

A big thank you to Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for giving me an ARC. This honest review is left voluntarily.

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American author Jon Bassoff is a prolific writer of gothic noir and his latest release is Beneath Cruel Waters. Kansas firefighter, Holt Davidson learns of his estranged mother’s suicide and returns to his hometown in Colorado. Struggling to find peace, he discovers a love letter and photo of a dead man, as well as a small hand gun. As he investigates, he reconnects with his institutionalised sister and has to confront the history of his mother's past and his own demons. A dark gritty tale of one man’s journey to discover the truth of his past and to truly understand his mother. With its succinct narrative style and gritty earthy feel, this is an enjoyable if gloomy four-star read rating. With thanks to Blackstone Publishing and the author, for an uncorrected advanced review copy for review purposes. As always, the opinions herein are totally my own and freely given, without any pressure.

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4.5 ⭐️‘s
When Holt Davidson goes home for his mother’s funeral, he finds a letter, a gun, and a photograph. It’s been decades since he’s been home, but he’s determined to find out what they mean. Seeking answers, Holt visits his sister Ophelia, who was committed to a mental hospital when she was sixteen. This reader was transfixed as the past catches up to the present and Holt starts to uncover the tragic events that changed the course of the Davidson’s lives. Bassoff’s dark and heartbreaking story is exceptionally well written and while bleak, it was a compelling read that won’t soon be forgotten!

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Holt Davidson essentially fled his hometown of Thompsonville, Colorado, as soon as he was old enough. After he receives news that his estranged mother has committed suicide, he decides it has to be done; he has to go back for the first time in over twenty-years.

The dread he is feeling about returning is substantial, but he's also hoping to maybe fill in some pieces of his murky childhood memories. He wants to finally be able to make peace with it all and put it behind him. Until this point, Holt has been haunted by his past, but it's actually unclear as to why.

Once he returns to Thompsonville, he even stays at his mother's home in his old bedroom. Alone in the house, he begins exploring, searching for clues from the past. Instead of your typical nostalgic childhood items, however, Holt discovers a gun, a mysterious love letter and a picture of a dead man lying in his own blood.

These aren't the type of things you can ignore, so Holt begins an investigation. He's determined to discover the secrets of his past, whether he's going to like it or not. He enlists the help of his mother's oldest, dearest friend and gains a lot of useful information from her, including insight into his sister who has been institutionalized since she was a teen. It's not long before Holt's own traumatic memories begin to resurface.

One of my favorite tropes in a Thriller is when a main character returns to their hometown after an extended absence, so in theory this was the perfect set-up for me. Luckily, the theory was proven correct in this case. I enjoyed this one a lot. Once I started I didn't want to put it down.

I found Bassoff's writing to be highly readable. It was fast-paced and smooth, with just the right amount of details. I love the POVs coming from both past and present to help to piece the truth together. I thought the reveals were well handled. Although predictable, it still managed to keep me fully captivated so it didn't really influence my opinion of the overall story.

I was really surprised by this one and definitely recommend it to fans of Crime Thrillers, especially if you enjoy the use of both past and present perspectives together.

Thank you to the publisher, Blackstone Publishing, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I'm looking forward to reading more from Bassoff!

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This might just be my favorite book of the year. I loved the beautiful writing, the characters were so fleshed out, and it had a sinister atmosphere to it.

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