Book Review: The Hollow Ones by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Paranormal
Series: Book 1 of The Blackwood Tapes
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (August 4, 2020)
Length: 480 pages
The Hollow Ones by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan follows a rookie FBI agent named Odessa Hardwicke as she investigates a string of mass murders after she herself survives one of the horrific attacks. At the end of a terrifying hunt for a rampaging killer on the loose, she was forced to shoot her own partner and mentor Walt Leppo after the older agent inexplicably became violent and turned on her. While the shooting was ruled as self-defense, Odessa was nonetheless put on desk duty, traumatized and filled with guilt over what she had to do. She also could not get the moment of Walt’s death out of her mind, when she thought she witnessed a shadowy entity leave his body, though she knew it sounded too crazy for anyone to believe.
Tasked with clearing out the office of a retired agent, Odessa meets Earl Solomon when she brings his belongings to him in the hospital. An old man now, Earl was one of the FBI’s first African American agents who worked on a strange case in Mississippi during in the early 1960s, where he also had his initial fateful encounter with an enigmatic British gentleman named Hugo Blackwood. Threaded through the novel is this secondary timeline in which Earl and Blackwood reluctantly join forces to investigate paranormal activity in the area, kicking off what would be a lifelong working relationship. Back in the present though, Earl recognizes disturbing similarities between Odessa’s story and his own, instantly recognizing that she needs help.
This is how Odessa is introduced to Blackwood, a mysterious figure who seemed to have stepped out of time, looking not a day older than when Earl first met him. As the story follows their desperate race to stop a demon from unleashing more of its evil and chaos, a third timeline takes us to the 16th century delving into Blackwood’s history, explaining his apparent immortality and how the doors of the mortal realm were opened to an invasion of malicious spirits.
As you can probably tell, there are a lot of elements to tease apart here, and not least of them is the acknowledgment mentioned in the book’s foreword regarding the character of John Silence and the “occult detective” subgenre as a whole, credited to famed classic horror writer Algernon Blackwood. The Hollow Ones can thus be regarded as something of a tribute to his work, which is clear from the way Del Toro and Hogan named their own detective protagonist. This undoubtedly gave their book a certain homage feel, though the authors also talked about how they created something completely new out of their inspiration. As John Silence is a character I know of by name only, I don’t feel equipped to make comparisons so I’ll just focus my review on what I enjoyed and what I didn’t.
First, what I liked: There’s a definite cinematic quality to the storytelling, which would be no surprise to anyone familiar with the authors’ work in film or their horror trilogy The Strain. However, I was also all over the urban fantasy vibe I got from The Hollow Ones, speaking as a fan of paranormal crime mysteries. In addition, the book started off in the most intense way, drawing me right into the action. As for the characters, I enjoyed following Odessa, Earl, and Blackwood in their respective POVs, but for me the icing on the cake was the dialogue, filled with clever and pithy banter. Del Toro and Hogan have clearly worked with each other long enough to know what works, and the first half of the novel flowed smoothly, keeping me enthralled with its constant action and mystery.
Now, for what I didn’t like so much. As I said, there’s a lot going on here, with three separate timelines. While the connections between them are eventually revealed, we lose a lot of steam in the meantime because of the split attention. I definitely felt less invested emotionally as the story moved into the second half, when the opposite effect should have been the case. It got just a little too overwhelming, I think, and at the same time, the answers which were finally provided in the end failed to make the impact I’d hoped for.
That said, The Hollow Ones still ended up being better than I expected. While not the most original, the ideas in this book have certainly piqued my interest for more. I’m a big fan of this subgenre, and though the second half was not a strong as the first, I feel there’s potential for future installments to explore more horror and paranormal mysteries, not to mention I would love to see some of these characters in action again.