Book Review: The Hollows by Daniel Church
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: Angry Robot (November 8, 2022)
Length: 460 pages
I went into The Hollows without knowing much about the book beyond that it was a horror set in a remote English village in the middle of a snowstorm. What I expected was something more in line with a psychological suspense, but instead what I got reminded me very much of 30 Days of Night with a dash of Midnight Mass—a claustrophobic pulse-pounding thriller with a paranormal component and featuring religious themes of good versus evil in a war as old as time.
In the sleepy town of Barsall, it isn’t too uncommon to find a few bodies frozen in the snow every winter, usually of lost travelers who wandered too far from the trail or underestimated the dangers of the bitter cold. But the latest one Constable Ellie Cheetham is called in to investigate is something of a mystery. For one thing, the victim is a local named Tony Harper, a member of the village’s most notorious family of troublemakers. He also died close to home, clutching a knife in one hand as if he’d spent his final moments trying to fend off an attacker. And finally, Ellie finds a strange symbol etched in charcoal near his corpse, possibly a ritualistic marking.
Instead of answers, a visit to the Harper household only leads to more questions. Tony’s mother, the matriarch Liz Harper, was predictably angry and grief stricken when informed of her favorite son’s death, but in the older woman’s eyes, Ellie also thought she saw a flash of terror. Liz Harper appears to know more than she lets on about what killed Tony, and of the strange charcoal marking and what it means.
As you can imagine, because I went into The Hollows blind, I was thrown for a loop at how things turned out. It was definitely the best way to experience this book, to be surprised and thrown off guard by the revelations of what was plaguing Barsall. Cosmic horror combined with demonic forces made this one a more unique and intriguing experience than I was expecting.
The setting also did not disappoint. I love tales of terror of suspense set in cold remote places cut off from civilization or any chance of rescue when the shit hits the fan. It’s the main reason I jumped at the chance to read this book with nary a clue of its plot or premise. I’m happy to say author Daniel Church nailed the homely atmosphere of Barstall, where everyone knows each other’s business and barely any secrets can be kept. Despite the mundane nature of life there, it’s a down-to-earth and cozy existence, making the horror that befalls its citizens later in the book feel so much worse.
Speaking of which, most of the characters are stereotypical figures you’d find in a small-town story, but they’re well-written and memorable. Ellie is the no-nonsense, capable cop on the job, who takes her duties to serve and protect rather seriously. Keeping her on her toes is the Harper family out at the Barrowman Farm, led by the vile Liz Harper and her older sons who are little more than her thuggish henchmen. As horrible as they were, the Harpers hold the key to the story’s mystery, and I was fascinated to learn of the role they played in the overall conflict.
The writing was also impressive, if no literary masterpiece. Church’s prose is a good match for the genre and tone of the story, written in a cinematic style that proved effective especially in the final chapters. With action happening in several places all at once and the perspectives moving between all the different POV characters in quick succession, I could imagine the words on the page playing out like a movie in my mind. Some of the sequences were so lengthy and intense, in fact, that it was almost mentally exhausting.
If you’re looking for a snowbound horror that’s equal parts thrilling and entertaining though, The Hollows has got you covered. A gripping chiller for the winter season, it’s even better when you don’t know what’s coming.