Last February, I won a copy of The Hollow City from Dan Wells himself (if I remember correctly, it was a battle of wits. We were in separate cages, each with its own bull mastiff, and he had two slips of paper, one with his dog’s kill word, and one with mine’s, but I digress….).
I decided to wait until just before the book came out in stores before reading it. It’s more fun to read a book when you can discuss it with other people. And with this book there is much to discuss.
The Hollow City combines the claustrophobic atmosphere of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with a surrealistic horror-fantasy worthy of The Twilight Zone. The protagonist, Michael Shipman, is a schizophrenic young man who gradually learns that some of the monsters he sees are real. Locked in a psychiatric hospital whose doctors treat him like a fibbing child, he’s not able to protect himself or others from the demons living among us. There’s also a serial killer on the loose who may or may not be Michael himself.
This book never lulls its tension. The meat of the story starts on page one and never stops coming until the epilogue. With a first-person narrator whose reliability is always in question, the reader can never be sure who the bad guys are until all is revealed in the conclusion. I haven’t seen a book establish its tone so strongly, and so early on, since I read I am not a Serial Killer, also by Dan Wells.
But this is no rehash of a past story. John Cleaver (I am not a Serial Killer‘s protagonist) knew he was a serial killer, he just didn’t know what he could do about it. Michael Shipman has no idea what he is, or what any of the people around him are, either. If anything, his life is more frightening than that of a confirmed killer.
Unfortunately, I can’t go into any more detail without spilling secrets. I can’t tell you about my favorite scenes, or why Michael’s girlfriend is my favorite character in the book. I do have some issues with the ending, but those are largely a matter of personal taste. You’ll just have to read it yourself, and if your literary lust is aligned with horror or suspense, you will be reading this book.
Entertainment Value – A+
Artistic Value – B+
Best Part – A courageous yet delusional protagonist/narrator who is constantly in conflict.
Worst Part – RAFO.