Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Mary Sangionvanni
Published by Leisure Books
An author’s debut novel is always an interesting read for me because you can usually tell in the first 50 or so pages if this person has a good grasp on the story they want to tell. In the case of the somewhat confusingly titled The Hollower (the title does make sense if you read it, obviously), that impression came through even earlier and a sigh of relief was breathed. I knew I was at least in for a cool story, if not anything necessarily groundbreaking.
So what is The Hollower? To those who can see him, he’s a living nightmare. He appears at the worst possible times in a person’s life, times when they’re full of self-doubt and questioning, and he feeds horrible thoughts into their brains. To his victims, he is a source of near constant torment because even when he’s not tormenting them in plain sight, he’s constantly in the person’s thoughts because they know he can appear at any time.
He shows himself as a man-shaped thing dressed in a long trench coat, with a black hat and black gloves. The most distinctive thing about him, however, is his face … or lack thereof. Where there should be human features there is simply nothing, allowing him to mimic anyone he sees fit in order to make his victims suffer even more. But he won’t kill them, indeed can’t even touch them. Instead he waits for their misery and loneliness to envelope their entire life until they can’t take it anymore and kill themselves. Pain and suffering is the sustenance for The Hollower, and he he’s always hungry.
Dave thinks he alone sees it, until his mentally unstable sister starts to say she sees the man with no face as well (indeed, she’s the one who comes up with the name). Dave soon learns that there are others who see it, people he interacts with everyday, and determines that the only way to stop it, to save both themselves and his sister, is that they have to confront it and find a way to kill it, as impossible as that seems.
From the outset you can tell you’re not dealing with your typical monster or ghost story, though towards the end it does being to morph into the former. Sangiovanni’s writing skills are really a thing to behold; she has the all-to-rare ability to draw you into her tale from the first few pages and makes sure you’re never tempted to look away no matter what happens. As stated the story does move into somewhat overdone territory at the end when the band of survivors set out to fight it, and it gets a little confusing in terms of setting for my tastes, but that can be forgiven because really, it’s just a fun ride.
And what really counts for the quality of a story, how much you believe in the characters the writer creates, is never an issue because they’re all realistic and believable; you care about what happens to Dave, racked with guilt after a lifetime of taking care of his mentally deficient sister, or Erik, trying to stay off of cocaine seemingly every waking moment because of his overwhelming love for his girlfriend, or the beautiful bartender Cheryl whose painful childhood memories come beating at her door anytime the creature shows itself.
For a debut novel, The Hollower is definitely impressive; Sangiovanni shows off some serious skills for an author right out of the box and I’ll be interested to see where she goes from here. If The Hollower is any indication, it looks like Leisure has scored another skilled wordslinger to add to their growing roster of talent and I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more from her in the coming years.
3 1/2 out of 5
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