Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
A tense literary gem from the award-winning warped mind of the author of the highly original ‘in limbo’ noir masterpiece, Pit-Stop.
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: L-L Publications (20 Nov 2009)
Having decided that Ben Larken’s Pit-Stop was my favourite noir thriller of 2009, I was delighted to be reading The Hollows. Although not a sequel as such, the main character of Pit-Stop, Scott Alder is the older brother of protagonist David Alder, who is also a lawman. Maybe it is more than a coincidence that a pit is also a hollow.
That link aside, The Hollows is a completely different story. In Middle America lies an unusual geographical phenomenon. It takes David Alder a while to appreciate the time-travelling and spine-chilling nature of the housing complex known as the Hollows. He is understandably distracted. For ten years he’s been searching for his missing wife. Will he find Elise who vanished leaving David with his young daughter, Melanie? This mystery is a hook and the source of much angst, father-daughter tension, and would fuel the reader on its own, but there’s so much more to this novel. The secrets inside a grandfather clock, its disembodied ticking that annoys Melanie, the other occupants of the housing complex who seem to know too much and have their own nightmares, all combine in turmoil.
Ben Larken knows how to scare his characters, and then some. There are many cunning phrases I wish I’d written. Listen to Elise berating herself: “I suck. Badly. Someday the stories of my suckage will be legend.”
Then an example of how an author can tease us with speech body language (rare in all novels except for the clichéd shrugs, sighs and nods). ‘“Sooo,” he said slowly, as if unsure where the sentence should go from here.’
Here we have a sound bite, or rather a clever non-sound bite. ‘None of them heard that inner panic alarm clanging in Rennie’s ears.’ Sometimes my tinnitus is so loud I’m sure the neighbours can hear it but at least I hear my whistles and bells whereas Rennie feels his panic alarm and Larken transposes it to a kind of alert to sound that isn’t really there. Quite brilliant.
The plot is a braid of subplots set in three time periods, 1949, 1999 and 2009. The time-travelling aspect, though restricted to a few characters, raises opportunities for intriguing recursion events, cleverly executed. Instead of shying from the time-paradox issues, Larken employs them so that the same person not only meets himself, but … ah, you wait and see.
In true Ben Larken style the main characters stand out in three dimensions. We care for what happens to them and urge their survival, not always successfully.
There are aspects not completely explained – the purpose of the blood, the origin and location rationale of the ‘whispering hollows’, and why certain people were targeted – but the clues lurk, and there is a sequel on its way; salivate in anticipation.
If you are an aficionado of noir fiction The Hollows will immerse you in a nether world, terrifying yet scintillating at the same time(s). This Ben Larken noir mystery thriller is strongly recommended.