Review: Stone Harbor

(A captivating mystery. Teeters on the edge of the medium, IF-adjacent perhaps? Never mind. A great story which drags the player along through the cunning use of clicks. Stone Harbor - Details (

“Do you seek the wisdom of the ancients?”

With these words our story begins. The protagonist welcomes a timid customer into his salon, preparing to do a psychic reading and look into the future. He’ll be the first to admit it’s all hazy-floaty mumbo-jumbo, or, as the plaque above the salon door reads: “For entertainment purposes only.”

Not long after however, when a strong-willed police-woman steps into the salon on a private mission and slaps a “tense and furious glove” on the table, it is revealed to his own astonishment that he does seem to have inherited some of the genuine psychic powers of his late mother…

Stone Harbor is a supernatural detective story. It follows the predictable mould of such stories quite closely. What it does with the various elements within that mould however, it does very well.

The prose flows easily and confidently. For example: the protagonist’s shock and disbelief of being drawn into a psychic trance feels genuine to the reader. It’s believable, where it could easily come across as forced or even farcical from the pen of a less-skilled writer.

Places are described elaborately and in precise detail, allowing an intricate mental picture of the surroundings. These descriptions are infused with the personal impressions of the protagonist, letting the reader align herself more intimately with the protagonist.
In contrast, revelations about the characters themselves and their relations to other people are kept short and implicit, trusting the reader to draw conclusions based on a few poignant details.

The overall structure of the story made me think of a ride in a slowly but steadily accelerating train. The long uninterrupted paragraphs of the first chapters provide the opportunity to comfortably settle in, study the characters and the setting. The story gradually picks up speed and by the final chapter the plot is frantically hurtling toward the denouement, dragging the reader along.

I’ve consistently used the word “reader” in this review. That is because Stone Harbor is much more a story than it is a game. It’s a linear narrative without branching, leading to a single predetermined outcome.
The choices, the clicking, the interacting with the text serve to guide and influence the reader’s experience of the story while travelling through it, rather than giving her control over the direction of travel.

Especially in the first chapters, the many micro-choices, the options of what detail to focus the protagonist’s attention on, invite deep commitment and investment. They effectively help the reader to align herself with the main character and inspire a genuine wish to see the mystery solved.
The further the plot advances, the more a single clickable option is available to advance the story. Instead of being a boring “continue”-option in disguise at the end of a paragraph however, these single clicks retain an in-story relevance. Not only does it feel qualitatively different to press a meaningful noun, a word which the reader has been trained to associate feelings of hope or threat with, the strategic placement of the clicks in ever-shortening paragraphs nearing the end also very effectively impresses the hastening tempo on the reader.

An impressively written, grippingly paced mystery.