Black Dog, Blue Sea by Dan Slater Review

Why do we pick up a book, bend open the cover and the first few pages and begin to read?

To escape? To move us? To transport us to another place? To switch off? To challenge? To learn?

Finding the right book (or, maybe like a partner) at least the ‘right for now’ book, is like finding the right recipe: you don’t know until you taste it, that it was exactly what you needed. 

Over Christmas, after the death of my mother from dementia and a fairly tumultuous November, I picked up Dan(forth) Slater’s 3rd novel, Black Dog, Blue Sea

I’ve known Dan for a few years and admire his writing in outdoorsy magazines like Wild and Great Walks. His wry take on gear reviews and adventures add a bit of spice to traditional travel writing that I appreciate. He manages to write honestly for articles paid for by brands, without losing any integrity as a traveller/adventurer; let alone a wordsmith.

To sum up, his pieces often make me smile.

The wind-down of December and the vibrating numbness of grief felt like the perfect time to smile again, and Dan’s book had been smouldering in my reading pile for a few months. It appeared that I was an unwitting victim of the right book-right time juju and turned the page.

When you really want another image and head to AI for help.

A travel memoir isn’t my usual go-to.

I’m more likely to be found in fiction that I can disappear (Homer-Simpson-hedge-like) into, especially an easy-read crime, thriller or mystery. [Inspector Brunetti or Thursday Murder Club, I’m looking at you].

In Black Dog, Blue Sea, Dan stows us away in his overused backpack, as voyeurs on his 3-month circumnavigation of the Caribbean.

We aren’t the only ones on this journey as his companions: the lead actor role is played by his estranged Father—the Black Dog—in the title.

The story is a rich, multi-layered and nuanced tale of love, family, mental health and identity, hidden behind a travel memoir that lures you out of your seat and into a rum-scented alleys of Grenada.

Like all good travel stories, the device of moving about in a foreign land, (especially on a budget), is an analogy for internal journeys of exploration, discovery and humour. None more so than in Dan’s book.

Definitely not Dan, but it is hiking in Roraima, Venezuala. Photo by IGNACIO GARCIA on Unsplash

Opening up destinations in the Caribbean (notoriously, one of the trickiest destinations for Aussies to get to) I’d never heard of, his illustrative words sent me Googling ‘Roraima Trekking Venezuela‘ and ‘diving Blue Hole Belize‘, for adventures and experiences rarely written about in mainstream travel press. In all, it reminded me of all the things I loved (and despised… but kinda now love again) about my own backpacking days in the 90s.

Did I smile? Indeed. Was it the right book at the right time? Most definitely.

Buy Dan’s book here or from Amazon, Constant Reader, Booktopia or Trek and Travel.

Writer, producer and content creator by trade, search and rescue volunteer by passion, Caro Ryan started to inspire, teach and encourage people to get into hiking and the outdoors safely.

It’s all about connecting people to wild places in meaningful ways, so they can look after themselves, their mates and these precious places we visit.

She teaches wilderness navigation, authored the book, ‘How to Navigate’ and hosts, ‘Rescued - an Outdoor Podcast for Hikers and Adventurers.

In the bottom of her pack you'll find coffee grounds, instant noodles past their used by date and an insatiable curiosity.

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