Orenda Books, 13 Augusr 2020
Available as: PB, e, audio
Read as: Advance review copy
I'm grateful to Orenda Books for supplying a free advance review copy of Hinton Hollow Death Trip and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Well. I'm genuinely lost for words by this one. If ever there was a book where all you can really say is, READ IT! then Hinton Hollow Death Trip would be the one. If you've read Carver's previous books, Good Samaritans and Nothing Important Happened Today, that won't surprise you, but it will surprise you - it amazed me - that he has been able (HOW?) to ramp up the weirdness further by several notches. It must be up to 13 nor 14 now.
How on Earth then to begin? Perhaps with what it isn't. Not police procedural. Carver takes joyful liberties with procedure, personnel, plausibility in terms of investigating a shocking crime taking place in the English countryside. Doesn't matter.
Not cosy crime. Boy, is it NOT cost crime. Pretty English village full of egos and self-satisfied villagers, yes. Cosy, no. Perhaps this is time for a quick CW - Hinton Hollow Death Trip has children shot. And mothers. And there are other deaths, too. An email I received about this book a few weeks ago contained a telling mistake: it had the title as "Hinton Hollow Death Trap". When you've read it you may feel that it's an easy error to make. Truly, the sleepy little town of Hinton Hollow is haunted by death... There is cruelty here. There is evil of all kinds.
In fact, not only is there evil, there is Evil. The story is narrated, we are told, by Evil, who admits to manipulating the good (and bad) people of Hinton Hollow for the few days of the story, setting them against each other, prompting lust, jealously, anger, gluttony. Nothing dramatic, just a nudge here, a nudge there and often they do the work themselves. Evil is sad that we are so wicked. It means Evil has to be worse. Evil's job would be easier if we were all better, you know?
If the book is anything it is a demonstration of that idea. In a seriously head-messy way (I could use a stronger word but I'm going to cross post this to places where they don't like strong language) we both see the events taking place in Hinton Hollow, that little village somewhere on the railway between Reading and Oxford AND we see Evil's commentary on them. It's soon obvious that we, as readers, are being addressed. We, as readers, are being judged. What did we think of the previous scene? What did we think about what happened? What did we think should have happened? Carver is not so much writing for his readers as writing against them. Were we satisfied with what Pace did at the end of Nothing Important Happened Today? I was, yes. Ah, but wasn't that itself an evil act?
Do we dislike a character working in a slaughterhouse for his treatment of the poor beasts he is unloading from the lorry? Yes, I did. Will I eat mean later?
And on. And on. This isn't an easy read at times. The deceptively simple language, short sentences and chapters, the affectless tone accompany a devastatingly ruthless moral force. Reading this book is like having your heart torn out and weighed against that feather and found wanting. Again and again. Even where the point isn't directly made against the reader, the interactions here between parent and child, sibling and sibling, between kids at school, between Pace and almost everyone, point up a sense of taint and turpitude that's impossible to escape.
If that makes it sound a gloomy and discouraging read, it isn't! I'm really not sure how he does it, but Carver manages to make you care about (almost) everyone here while fully convicting them for failing and crime after failing and crime. He convicts the reader too: maybe the trick works both ways and the book ends up making you care more outside its pages as well? There's also a vein of folk horror in here, of something wicked in the woods.
I just can't put this book in a nice pigeonhole (not nice, and no pigeonhole suits). I can't completely explain the effect it had on me. It's not a comfortable read. Yet it was a deeply compelling read, a spectacular conclusion (I think?) to the DS Pace series, one that refuses to make easy choices or downplay the darkness but still manages to be uplifting. Sheer class on every page. I am in awe of Carver.
For more about Hinton Hollow Death Trip see the Orenda Books website here.
You can buy Hinton Hollow Death Trip from your local bookshop (they really need you, now more than ever), or online from Hive Books (who support local shops), Blackwell's, Foyles, Waterstones or Amazon.
The blogtour continues - see the poster below for some bloggers who will I hope be able to explain this stunning book more articulately than I've been able!