Map of Blue Book Balloon

3 November 2020

Review - The Hollow Places by T Kingfisher

Cover design by
Natasha MacKenzie

The Hollow Places
T Kingfisher
Titan Books, 3 November 
Available as: PB, e
Source: Advance copy provided by the publisher
ISBN: 9781789093308

Pray that They are hungry...

I'm grateful to Sarah at Titan Books for an advance copy to The Hollow Places to consider for review.

When Kara ("Carrot" to close friends and family) goes through a messy divorce and has to move out of her home ('I was grimly throwing my books into boxes -I was taking the Pratchett, dammit, and he could buy his own...') there are only two options - move back in with her mother, which is never going to work, or accept Uncle Earl's invitation of bed and board at his Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy in Hog Chapel. Earl is a kindly if eccentric man, not as mobile as he used to be and he could use some help. So the choice is made. 

Fortunately the place is next door to the Black Hen coffee house, presided over by Kara's childhood friend Simon, so there are advantages.

The Museum as described is a wonderful mixture of the curious, the cute, the outright fake and the plain odd. Skulls, bones and stuffed skins abound and - if some of the pieces have a 'Made in China' sticker underneath - no-one's looking in the cases, are they? It's the perfect place for Kara to lick her wounds, fill Simon in on what's been going on (he's gay, so they can swap stories about the iniquities of men) and begin cataloguing the collection in her spare time.

They one day, Kara finds something that shouldn't be there... a space she din't know about, that doesn't;t seem to fit the rest of the building.

T Kingfisher's new book is a loose sequel, of companion, to Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows". I read this long, long ago (30 or 40 years ago). Something about somebody travelling by boat down a river, and coming to a space that ought not to be there - a wide, shallow basin filled with agitated willows. What happened after wasn't good.

It might seem a stretch to link this idea to a landlocked mid Western town with a coffee shop, boutique that closes goes out of business every twelve months or so, and a single hardware store, but Kingfisher uses - manipulates - the tropes of horror so well that it seems oh so credible. There's an art to that - at one level we, the readers, know exactly what to expect and will fidget if we don't get it: the slow build up while Kara dismisses what she's seeing, initial explorations, hints of danger (but not too much, not too soon, it needs time for the thing to grow in our minds).

At another levels we also need novelty, surprises and peril, the author can't follow the template exactly or she'll fail to grab attention. Well, this book grabs attention early on. It wraps its fingers through your hair and pulls, and each time it pulls is harder than the last and each pull is a greater, a deeper horror. What exists beyond that hole which has opened up in the museum wall takes time to explore and assimilate, but once Kara and Simon step through, they'r tin immediate danger.

Pray that They are hungry...

It takes time to understand what is so bad if They are not hungry, what that might lead to. Time, and horrifying discoveries about those who went before - discoveries which do make clear how much danger everyone's in, but which also spin a nagging mystery as to exactly how and why all this is happening now. And in the course of all this, while she is suffering extreme pain and distress because of what happened to her, Kara is also having to deal with fussing by her mother and her ex-husband's irritating, stalkery behaviour (of course she wouldn't, herself, stoop to tracking his on social media, oh no, of course she wouldn't).

It's a well written, page-turner of a horror story, which, time and gain, wrong-foots its readers until the final, nail-biting climax in which Kara finds herself alone, injured and assaulted by a deadly and relentless  enemy. A worthy follow-up to The Twisted Ones and enough to make me look very, very carefully at that willow tree down the end of the garden. The one shaking right now in the wind... but perhaps I won't look too closely, or for too long.

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