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Book Review: The Hollow City

Updated on October 17, 2012


I've sung the praises of Dan Wells before when I reviewed his John Cleaver books. Having finished his debut trilogy, I was excited to pick up his newest book, The Hollow City. His other books have been young adult and I was interested to see how his tone changed between the youth market and the adult.

The Hollow City is the story of Michael Shipman, a paranoid schizophrenic who has lost two weeks of memory and is now locked up in a mental hospital. Michael sufferes from hallucinations; Faceless Men, giant maggots and blinking lights haunt him. Not only that, but his paranoia causes him to fear all electronics and strangers and he's convinced that there's a conspiracy of men after him.

With all of that going on, Michael soon learns that he's being investigated by the FBI in regards to a local murderer known as the Red Line Killer. As the evidence mounts up against Michael, even he starts to doubt his own innocence. But what throws him off guard is learning that some of his delusions, the monsters he sees, might be real.

Wells is great at creating likable characters through his first person narrative, especially anti-heroes. But, even though Michael is likable as the point-of-view character, he's an unreliable narrator. His delusions keep us from trusting his story and there are moments where it's obvious that Micahel is falling to his schizophrenia.

Michael is also surrounded by a cast of characters trying to help him deal with his symptoms. Michael has his father, who wants nothing to do with his son or his issues. There's Lucy, his girlfriend, the only one who believes him. There are also two psychologist trying to cure him; Dr.Vanek and Dr. Little. Vanek has been Michael's long time doctor who might qualify as the worst shrink in the practice with his disregard to his patient's feelings. Dr. Little is Michael's newest psychologist in the mental institute, a smiling and pill prescribing man who doesn't believe a word Michael says in regards to what's real and what's not.

Some of these characters are great, others are a bit one dimensional. Vanek is likable in his brash, unforgiving ways and he's been with Michael for almost his whole life. Lucy, on the other hand, never becomes a memorable person. But, I tried to keep a distance from all the people Michael came across, believing everyone to be imaginary until proven real. Some of my suspisions were right, some wrong and some assumptions were blown right out of the water.

In the end, I was disappointed by the book. It took a while to get going, with the big revelations and twists not coming until the second half of the book. I felt like I was waiting for the book to get going and become a surreal horror or thriller. Instead, we get a somewhat tense "day in the life" of Michael at the hospital. When the pace does pick up, the questionable nature of reality does hit but it seems to come too late.

The direction Wells takes the mystery seems like an abrubt change from the main story and it's hard to follow along with his lead. The rest of the book makes sense with the surprise but it seems like something more out of The Twilight Zone than the book Wells is writting.

I don't want to make this book sound like it shouldn't be read, because I enjoyed myself while reading it. There are some authentically erie moments. The identity of the Hollow City, the image of the Faceless Men and the emptiness of Michael's life all have a creepy feel that reeks of late October.

But Wells is still growing as an author and you can feel him testing the waters for new takes on horror. He's still an excellent writer, with a great sense of dialog and his ideas are far beyond conventional. The Hollow City is a good book, but it has its flaws and could use a better pace. Check it out if you enjoy psychological thrillers, or check out Wells' serial killer trilogy if you'd prefer more horror.


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