The Hollow - Book Review
by Daniel Church
Angry Robot I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you so much to Angry Robot!
As immersive as it is creepy, The Hollows strikes the perfect balance of folk horror, mystery, and crime drama.
In a lonely village in the Peak District, during the onset of a once-in-a-lifetime snow storm, Constable Ellie Cheetham finds a body. The man, a local ne'er-do-well, appears to have died in a tragic accident: he drank too much and froze to death.
But the facts don't add up: the dead man is clutching a knife in one hand, and there's evidence he was hiding from someone. Someone who watched him die. Stranger still, an odd mark has been drawn onto a stone beside his body.
The next victims are two families on the outskirts of town. As the storm rises and the body count grows, Ellie realises she has a terrifying problem on her hands: someone – or some thing – is killing indiscriminately, attacking in the darkness and using the storm for cover.
I loved this book! It’s atmospheric and slow-burn, bringing in not only typical horror tropes, but crime drama, mystery, and some Lovecraftian elements. The entire time you understand what’s going on, but what propels you further is why. The novel maintains a healthy tone throughout, with evocative descriptions of not only the monsters, but the winter landscape: “Even in winter, the trees tried to grow across the path, as if it was a wound the world wanted closed.”
The characters are interesting and well-developed - some you root for and others you hate. Ellie, the main character, is a cop with baggage. While this trope we’ve seen many times, the way Ellie’s backstory unfolds shows it to be one of those commonplace tragedies not related to her being a copy. Her grief and anger are more complex than revenge, and drive the actions she takes in the story.
In terms of the plot, I loved how this was both a folk horror - with very creepy monsters - as well as crime drama (with lots of action) between a family from the “wrong side of the tracks” and the rest of the townsfolk. At first I wasn’t too keen on this outcast family being the human antagonists, as that felt a bit reductive, but as the story progresses the reason for this, like Ellie’s cop with a chip on her shoulder backstory, became more complex.
While the tension with the monsters was great, the interactions between Ellie and Liz were harrowing and I was on the edge of my seat. This tension was different than that of the monsters, but human vs human always scares me more than creatures. In truth, the monster scenes later in the novel could have been trimmed down a little bit, but I was never bored or skipped ahead.
The story also branches out a bit to follow different characters as the story progresses, so we get a broader range of perspectives and point of view. The novel strikes the right balance of making us care about the characters but not making them too real that when they die (as the body count in the story is stupendous) we are emotionally damaged. That’s not to say any character is safe, though! I also very much enjoyed the bonding of women in this novel, especially given it was written by a man.
The only parts I wasn’t super into were the religious discussions that popped up a few times, but that’s just a preference on my part.
Highly highly recommended if you love horror set in winter towns, a bit of crime drama, Lovecraftian elements, and good, old-fashioned, creepy monsters.
(Some content warnings on top of the usual stuff you’d expect to see in horror: child abuse/neglect (of an older teenager), mentions of sexual assault, children in peril, and dogs in peril. Nothing is particularly graphic or even shown - it’s more that you know it’s happening in the background.)