The Hollows is an enjoyably gripping blend that starts as a police procedural, quickly engages horror’s shared DNA with thriller fiction, and ultimately descends (in the best sense) into cosmic elder god nightmare. It also works well as a social deconstruction of folklore, splicing Peak District place names with the roles of individuals in village society and how they came to be in that position.
Horror is always defined by its villains and these are exemplary – from genuinely frightening and sometimes unbearably vicious netherworld monsters to the brilliantly brutal matriarch of a local ‘problem family’. Geography too plays an antagonistic part – the picturesque landscape doesn’t just harbour buried horrors who use human bodies as clothes, food, and for sadistic divination, it also ensures that the village is completely cut off at the worst possible time. The book is too subtle to make its parallels with climate change obvious, but the lethally ‘unseasonal’ snow combined with horrors we thought we were done with – such as an ice age because why not? – make grim parallels with our own late-in-the day realisation of ultimate peril.
What keeps the pages turning almost by themselves however, is the big-hearted characterisation of a trio of well-drawn middle-aged female leads. I mention their age because this is a demographic that doesn’t always get a great look-in in horror fiction, which often lapses into tiresomely post-modern ‘virgin sacrifice’ territory. Village police officer Ellie, numbly seeking meaning in her life after a devastating personal tragedy, is a determined, resourceful, and sometimes bracingly snarky lead whose intelligence and decency drive her on when all around her are panicking or being skinned alive. Her friend is the local doctor, Milly, whose Christian faith is handled with careful insight. Rather than indulging in evangelical propaganda – yes vampire fiction I’m looking at you – the story suggests that if vast and terrible cosmic gods exist then why not have at least one whose mystery might include benevolence? The last member of the triptych is Madeline, the kind, dog-loving vicar who likes the pub as much as the church, and whose strange fate gives Millie’s belief an appropriately sacrificial physicality.
Fundamentally a story about people driven to find resources in the bleakest places, The Hollows sprinkles its magic wisely and with compelling effect.
The novel was written by the appropriately-named Daniel Church and is published by Angry Robot. I was grateful to get my advance copy from NetGalley.
Buy it here – https://angryrobotbooks.com/books/the-hollows/