Dead Calm

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This article is about the book. For the film, see Dead Calm (film).
Dead Calm
Dead Calm (Williams novel).jpg
Author Charles F. Williams
Country United States
Language English
Genre Thriller
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
Media type Print
ISBN ISBN 0-670-26042-8

Dead Calm is a 1963 novel by Charles F. Williams which was the basis for the unreleased film The Deep (by Orson Welles) and the later film Dead Calm (by Phillip Noyce). It is the sequel to Williams' lesser-known 1960 romantic thriller, Aground.


A honeymooning couple, John and Rae Ingram, rescue a young man, Hughie, from a sinking boat who claims to have lost his companions to food poisoning. When John goes to inspect the sinking boat, he discovers the captain, Russ, and another woman, Mrs. Warriner, alive and begging for help. Discovering that John has left, Hughie panics, takes Rae hostage, and begins sailing her boat away from the sinking ship.

On board the sinking ship, John learns that Hughie and Mrs. Warriner and Russ and his wife, Mrs. Bellows, were vacationing when Hughie suffered an agoraphobic reaction while diving with Mrs. Bellows and accidentally killed her trying to climb onto her shoulders. The realization of what he'd done resulted in Hughie suffering a psychotic break. Mrs. Warriner further tells John that Hughie, though a gifted artist, has the mind of a child, his emotional growth having been stunted by his overbearing father and a codependent relationship with an inappropriately affectionate mother. On board the Ingram's boat, Rae is able to surmise this herself from Hughie's behavior and assumes the role of a caring mother figure in order to lull him into a false sense of security, while preparing to kill him with a shotgun John has stashed in their room.

Ultimately, John and Russ are able to sufficiently repair their boat and rendezvous with Hughie and Rae. When everyone is reunited, Hughie suffers a flashback and sees Russ as his father and knocks him overboard. Hughie suffers a panic attack in the water and seizes up, and drags Russ below water where they both drown.

John gives a sympathetic psychological analysis of Hughie as he, Rae, and Mrs. Warriner see that a new wind has come in that will take them all home.