Book Review: Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
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: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Nightfire (February 8, 2022)
Length: 416 pages
I’ve been reading a lot of “haunted” books lately, but Echo was pretty special because it’s not every day one comes across a story about a haunted mountain.
It begins with an accident. Mountaineer Nick Grevers and his climbing partner Augustin had traveled to a remote Swiss Alps peak called the Maudit in an effort to scale it. Tragedy strikes, however, with Augustin falling to his death, while Nick survives, albeit with his half his face obliterated by rockfall. Or at least, that was the official story, though Nick’s boyfriend Sam Avery isn’t so sure. The doctors and nurses at the Swiss hospital where they are treating Nick are strangely evasive when asked questions about his injuries, or where he and Augustin were climbing. Nick himself has little recollection of the incident, doped up on morphine with his face wrapped up in bandages.
As Sam wrestles with the shock of almost losing Nick and what their lives will look like going forward, he leaves Switzerland to return to his home of New York in order to decompress. Meanwhile, 32 patients die under brutal and mysterious circumstances at the hospital where Nick is staying, and then come the suicides of the staff who were treating him. It appears when Nick attempted to climb Maudit, an ancient evil from the mountain may have come back with him.
One of the weirdest, creepiest horror novels I’ve read is Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, and I’ve been eager to read more of his work ever since. Echo definitely helped scratch that itch. The book begins with a spine-tingling opener, the perfect teaser as to what’s to come. But before we get into the meat of the story, there’s the setup, because even though this is a horror novel, it is also very much an exploration of relationships, often through the idealistic and naïve lens of youth.
In the middle of it is Nick and Sam, a happy and loving couple before the accident, despite the former’s enthusiasm for mountain climbing and the latter’s disapproval for the dangerous hobby. When Sam’s deepest fears are realized, he wonders if he can ever look upon Nick’s once beautiful but now mutilated face again without revulsion, and whether or not that would change their relationship. Those thoughts are next followed by no small amount of shame and guilt as he realizes how shallow he’s being. Nick, on the other hand, is more optimistic, though granted, readers are always reminded that his mind may be his own, influenced by a multitude of factors including painkillers, PTSD, and of course whatever malicious entity that might be growing inside of him.
Back and forth, we get alternating viewpoints between the two young men as Nick gradually reveals what happened to him on fateful climb at Maudit, while Sam realizes his true feelings for his boyfriend and sets off to do everything in his power to save him. There is also a good chunk of the story devoted to the relationship between Sam and his sister, and the shared trauma they both experienced as children that still haunts them and shapes their lives to this day.
The horror in this book itself is not the in-your-face variety, but more like slow creeping dread, which is what I love about the author’s books. You won’t find too much gore in here; instead, you get lots of disturbing scenarios, suspenseful moments and unsettling imagery.
My only criticism is that the plot probably could have been more streamlined, as there were parts in the middle that meandered and felt bloated with sections that didn’t feel as relevant or particularly useful to the overall story. This dragged the pacing down somewhat, significantly enough that it was a bit of struggle to push myself through these slower parts, but fortunately things pick up again in the second half and we get to finish on a strong note.
Echo would be a good book for you if you enjoy slow-burn horror, especially if you prefer a bit of vagueness to your scary stories, the kind that sparks the dark corners of your imagination. I would also recommend it highly for readers who like character driven stories enriched with deep, complex relationships.