A local legend gone haywire.

A small-town cop.

An impossible eyewitness testimony.

Which is easier to believe—that killer mermaids exist, or that one person is worth risking everything for?

For fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Into the Drowning Deep comes a chilling horror story steeped in urban rumor.

-from the author’s website

The Reyes Incident cover, designed by Donnie Goodman

In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, Circe warns of the sirens: creatures whose song lures sailors to certain death. Odysseus’ men stuff wax in their ears, while Odysseus himself is bound to the mast; he hears the song but resists the call to steer the ship into the rocks. In mythology, sirens are depicted with the heads of women and the bodies of birds. Over the years, however, the image has shifted, with many equating sirens with mermaids and vice versa. This confusion may have arisen as early as the 9th century when a version of the Physiologus (a didactic Christian text) included a drawing of a mermaid alongside an accurate description of a mythological siren. Briana Morgan’s 2022 novella The Reyes Incident favours the mermaid approach, offering vicious, enigmatic, beguiling creatures whose song is hard to resist.

Andie Alameda has her own siren song to resist. The relationship with her wife, Joy, has become strained– betrayals, tragedy, and a gradual emotional distance testing the marriage – and Andie finds herself drawn to Liv Reyes, the young woman who claims to have seen monsters in an abandoned bunker. Disheveled, bloody, and possibly injured, Liv tells her tale over a month of police interviews. Despite how bizarre it sounds, Andie believes her. Ignoring her colleagues’ concerns and the intervention of her police chief father, she becomes obsessed not only with Liv but also with the impossible truth that lies in the woods.

The Reyes Incident is not an epistolary novella, though Morgan flirts with the structure, including incident reports and intradepartmental emails. Much of the story is revealed through Liv’s police interviews. She recounts her friends’ invitation to reprise her role as a camerawoman for their urban exploration YouTube channel. A group of twenty-somethings descending, cameras at the ready, into an allegedly haunted and certainly mysterious location recalls found footage films like Gonjiam: Haunted Assylum (2018). A commitment to that structure would have benefitted the book massively. As it stands, Liv’s testimony is too formal. She recalls dialogue and other details far more accurately than might be expected. These sections are explicitly verbatim transcripts, but they lack spontaneity or a conversational tone. They would perhaps work better as flashbacks from her perspective, with an understanding that her actual testimony reads much more naturally.

The Reyes Incident author Briana Morgan
Author Briana Morgan

The testimony is, without doubt, the most interesting part of the book. Morgan cleverly exploits not only the found footage genre but also the decades-old horror staple of irradiated monsters. An abandoned military bunker housing a government conspiracy, coupled with a group of young people poking their noses where they don’t belong, makes for a fun and compelling read. The monsters are monstrous, the mystery mysterious, and the pace is propulsive enough to offer a fun couple of hours’ escapism. Morgan’s love for the genre is obvious, and the novella would be perfect for horror film fans whose appreciation may not always extend to literature. Aside from the Gonjiam comparison, the book has shades of The Blair Witch Project, while the bunker recalls It: Chapter 2‘s cistern, or perhaps the darkened, flooded basement levels of countless video games. The influences are clear, but the novella offers enough creativity and originality to stand alone.

The protagonist, Andie, may divide readers. Like many fictional cops, she is tenacious, dedicated, and convinced that she is an exception to the rule; she serves and protects properly. Therefore her inappropriate attraction to Liv develops quickly and lacks emotional depth. Andie herself feels shallow, too. Morgan reveals Andie’s fears, hopes, and trauma far too easily. This is, in part, down to the length of the book, but we never have to work to earn her history. She is an open book, with each important detail revealed in a few sentences before the story moves on. At least once, this confuses the timeline, as one conversation between Andie and Joy seems to take place in the past, when in fact it is a continuation of the present. Her experience as a lesbian cop in a small town is introduced and then forgotten. Of course, queer characters are allowed to exist without their identities defining them, but when so little depth is offered, it feels like a missed opportunity.

In the end, though, The Reyes Incident is a quick, gory, easy read. It combines government conspiracies, seductive monstresses, and dangerous obsessions to create a fun if uneven novella. Horror fans who appreciate twists on genre staples will no doubt find something to love in this gruesome little book, which is out now. You can purchase the paperback or eBook from various outlets, or a signed copy directly from the author.

Grimoire of Horror thanks Briana Morgan for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.