“But a body was a body: somebody’s husband, somebody’s son. Someone, somewhere, would be missing the poor sod.”
A small village experiences big terror in The Hollows, the thrilling debut novel by British horror writer Daniel Church.
The Hollows is set in the Peak District, a sparsely populated upland region of middle England, which makes the perfect backdrop for horror.
As the book opens, a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm envelops the isolated village of Barsall. The town constable, Ellie Cheetham, is investigating the demise of a local deadbeat, who has apparently frozen to death after passing out drunk in the midst of the storm.
However, the circumstances of his death point to a more complicated explanation, as the dead man is found gripping a knife in an apparent attempt at self-defense. More oddly, a mysterious symbol is found drawn on a stone near the body of the victim. While the initial setup for The Hollows follows that of a traditional crime thriller, a sense of horror steadily builds throughout the novel, becoming the dominant mood for most of the book.
Although Ellie Cheetham is the main protagonist of The Hollows, the viewpoint shifts among three other strong female leads. Church paints convincing, multifaceted portraits of all four leads, each of whom has realistic flaws making them relatable and largely sympathetic characters.
Daniel Church grabs the reader’s attention from the first few pages and maintains a fast-paced plot throughout the book, steadily building suspense as the body count rises. The author’s crisp writing style is a perfect match for the brutal, wintry setting of the novel. The last hundred pages of the book are a romp, culminating with an epic climactic scene. Daniel Church kept me glued to the pages, unable to put the novel down until I arrived, reluctantly, at the end, leaving me thirsty for more.
I especially enjoyed the cultish folk horror aspects of The Hollows, but I wish the author had provided greater depth to the history of the village and its local legends. At the end of the novel, I was still left wondering why these urban legends were known only to a small sliver of the population, leaving others in ignorance.
One other minor complaint is that although The Hollows is full of action, there is a sameness to many of the action scenes. I was hoping for a bit more variety in the types of action experienced by the characters. But these are small criticisms in a book that is, overwhelmingly, a very exciting and thought-provoking read.
All in all, The Hollows is an extraordinary debut novel, establishing Daniel Church as an electrifying new voice in speculative fiction.
Review originally published at Grimdark Magazine.