With our guest reviewer, the author and pulp noir expert Paul D Brazill
Emotionally battered and bruised by his most recent case, Detective Sergeant Pace leaves London behind, including his loving girlfriend and confidant Maeve, and returns to his rural hometown of Hinton Hollow – population 5,120 – in the hope of some sort of respite. But Evil follows him home…
Will Carver’ Hinton Hollow Death Trip has echoes of other dark small town tales such as Jim Thompson’s The Kill-Off, Stephen King’s Needful Things, Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, and, of course, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, in that the seemingly idyllic small town has a dark and seedy underbelly. Indeed, Hinton Hollow seems to be full of secrets and ‘the woods are not what they seem’. Disappointment, jealousy, bitterness, resentment and violence all bubble just below Hinton Hollow’s homely surface and, in the course of the novel, all of this and more is uncovered. DC Pace’s Home Counties haven soon turns into a Hell on Earth.
Pretty much as soon as he arrives back in Hinton Hollow, things go off kilter. There is a horrifying murder, a worried mother sends her youngest child on the train out of town, far away from the encroaching darkness that is soon to envelope the place, and as for Darren from the slaughterhouse, well let’s just say that his story in the early part of the book is not for those of a nervous disposition.
Hinton Hollow Death Trip is a tale full of twists and turns sharp enough to give you whiplash and it works well as a gripping police procedural, a whodunnit with a dash of the supernatural about it, but it is also a thoughtful exploration of human frailty and our capacity for self-deception.
There is a rich and varied cast of characters too. Some of them are horrible, some are annoying, some are ridiculous, some are downright scary, and others – such as the owners of the local diner – are really, really nice. But they are all very believable and realistic, even the pompous policeman with the preposterous moustache.
Hinton Hollow Death Trip is original, engrossing, touching, sad, violent, funny and, yes, occasionally annoying. Because the real twist in this collection of little tales of misanthropy is that the story is narrated by Evil itself, who has seemingly arrived in Hinton Hollow with the sole purpose of making Detective Sergeant Pace suffer for his past transgressions.
As the story is told, Evil playfully and capriciously interjects the narrative with comments, hints, secrets, reflections and even homilies that wouldn’t look at all out of place in a cheesy self-help book. In fact, in many ways Evil seems to be a tad naïve and a bit of a prig too!
But rather than disrupt the storyline, Evil’s black pearls of wisdom help paint a bigger picture of the denizens of Hinton Hollow and their interlocked lives. For sure, in just five days, in such a small town, a hell of a lot happens. Little things and big things. Ordinary things and bizarre things. Good things and bad things. And very, very bad things indeed.
Hinton Hollow Death Trip is a clever and inventive novel that tests the reader’s patience and endurance for sure. At times it comes across like a more grown-up, less of a smartass, version of a Chuck Palahniuk novel or a darker shade of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And I’ll admit, about a third of the way through the book, I faltered a little, but thankfully I stuck with it and found reading the novel a rewarding and satisfying experience.
I should also mention that this is the first Will Carver novel that I’ve read and although it refers to events in the two previous books to feature Detective Sergeant Pace – Good Samaritans and Nothing Important Happened Today – it didn’t hinder my appreciation of Hinton Hollow Death Trip in any way.
A damn fine five-star read.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars