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Excerpt from The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Mountain in the Sea

A Novel

by Ray Nayler

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler X
The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 464 pages

    May 2023, 464 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
David Bahia
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

There is no silence in the living nervous system. An electrical symphony of communication streams through our neurons every moment we exist. We are built for communication.

Only death brings silence.

—Dr. Ha Nguyen, How Oceans Think


NIGHT. DISTRICT THREE of the Ho Chi Minh Autonomous Trade Zone.

The plastic awning of the café streamed with rain. Under its shelter, wreathed in kitchen steam and human chatter, waiters wove between tables with steaming bowls of soup, glasses of iced coffee, and bottles of beer.

Beyond the wall of rain, electric motorbikes swept past like luminescent fish.

Better not to think of fish.

Lawrence concentrated his attention instead on the woman across the table, wiping her chopsticks with a wedge of lime. The color-swarm of the abglanz identity shield masking her face shifted and wavered.

Like something underwater …

Lawrence dug his nails into his palm. "I'm sorry—does that thing have another setting?"

The woman made an adjustment. The abglanz settled to a bland construct of a female face. Lawrence could make out the faint outline of her real face, drifting below the surface.

Drifting …

"I don't usually use this setting." The oscillations of the abglanz flattened the woman's inflection. "The faces are uncanny. Most people prefer the blur."

She brought her chopsticks to her mouth. The noodles sank into the glitchy surface of the digital mask's lips. Inside was the shadow of another set of lips and teeth.

Don't look at her. Just begin. "Okay. My story. That's what we're here for. I came to the archipelago ten … no, eleven years ago now. Before that I worked for a dive place in Nha Trang. There were only two dive shops on Con Dao when I arrived—one at a fancy hotel for Westerners, and another little shop that wasn't doing well. I bought it out. Paid almost nothing. Con Dao was a sleepy place—underpopulated, undervisited. Locals thought it was haunted."


"The whole place used to be a prison. The graveyards are filled with generations of dissidents tortured to death by one government after another. A bad place to start a business, right? Maybe. But it was a good place if you just wanted to get by, to live. Sure, it had its problems—lots of them. Technically, the Global Conservation Park covered the entire archipelago, both land and water. Zero fishing or hunting allowed. There was even a UN watchdog organization that would show up once a year, write a report. But the reality was, there were always fishing boats coming in, tangling trawling nets in the reefs, using cyanide and dynamite. And the park rangers were all corrupt. How could they not be, with the salaries they were being paid? They sold turtle eggs, reef fish, whatever they could get their hands on. The locals were in on it—spearfishing, free diving for shellfish. Son, my assistant, had been a free diver."

"And where is he now?"

"I told you before—I don't know. We lost touch after the evacuation."

"He was the one with you on the boat? The day of the incident?"

"Yeah. I was coming to that." Avoiding it, more like. "The wreck is a steel-hulled Thai freighter, sixty meters long. It went down late in the twentieth century. It's the only penetrable wreck you can dive in Vietnam. It's in just twenty meters of water, but the conditions there are usually bad. Strong currents, poor visibility. It's only for customers who know what they are doing. You don't get many customers like that on Con Dao, so we hadn't been out there in years. It was a morning dive. Off-season. Lousy visibility, maybe two meters. But the guy wanted a wreck dive. So we got in the water and worked our way down. It was just me and him."

Lawrence paused. "I keep making it more dramatic than it is. But it wasn't dramatic. It was routine. There were squid and cobia bumping into us. Visibility was awful. We were almost at the wreck when I decided to call it off. But when I turned around, he was gone. That's normal, though. You lose people in low-vis water all the time. You just stay put. If you go looking for them, it's easy to get disoriented.

Excerpted from The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Naylor. Copyright © 2022 by Ray Naylor. Excerpted by permission of MCD. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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