The Hollows by Daniel Church

November 11, 2022

In a lonely village in the Peak District, during the onset of a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm, Constable Ellie Cheetham finds a body. The man, a local ne’er-do-well, appears to have died in a tragic accident: he drank too much and froze to death.

But the facts don’t add up: the dead man is clutching a knife in one hand, and there’s evidence he was hiding from someone. Someone who watched him die. Stranger still, an odd mark has been drawn onto a stone beside his body.

The next victims are two families on the outskirts of town. As the storm rises and the body count grows, Ellie realises she has a terrifying problem on her hands: someone – or some thing – is killing indiscriminately, attacking in the darkness and using the storm for cover.

The killer is circling ever closer to the village. The storm’s getting worse… and the power’s just gone out.

A bit of seasonal, wintry horror this week. The Hollows by Daniel Church is a fresh take on old-school creature features. 

Officer Ellie Cheetham is a lowly police constable responsible for upholding the law in this rural, isolated community. During the worst snowstorm in years, she finds herself trying to discover the truth behind a seemingly random death and a growing list of missing persons. Something is horribly wrong and as the days grow shorter, things are getting worse. There is an evil presence stalking the land and with each passing hour, it is getting closer to the village. Death is coming, and it is coming for everyone. 

Ellie’s sense of duty and empathy feel palpable. As the situation goes from bad to worse, and it really does, Ellie constantly puts the well-being of others before her own. She has that rare ability to properly compartmentalise her feelings and separate them from the actions she knows she has to take. It makes her a truly compelling protagonist. You want Ellie to succeed, to help the people that need her. I also particularly enjoyed the revelation that there is a part of Ellie who lives for the adrenalin rush that stepping into the unknown can bring. In the past, she has worked in the roughest parts of the inner city and there is a part of her that misses that buzz.

Unfortunately for Ellie, it’s not just the inexplicable disappearances and deaths she has to deal with. There is also a well-known family of troublemakers who have their own plans when it comes to surviving the coming days. Liz, the domineering matriarch of the local hooligans, the Harpers, is a force of nature. She is distrustful of everyone one and everything. Her family are rotten to the core. Her sons are a bunch of Neanderthals who range from violent sociopaths to abhorrent scumbags. They are quite the delightful brood, I’m sure you can imagine. The only exception is Liz’ daughter, Jess. Growing up in such a volatile environment has taught Jess well. She has learned to go unnoticed. When events begin to spiral out of control Jess decides it’s time to leave her old life behind. Needless to say, when discovered, Jess’ traitorous behaviour cannot be tolerated. The Harper’s demand their own brand of justice. This leads to an epic showdown between the Harpers and the rest of the village just at the point where all manner of hell has already broken loose. It’s nerve-jangling stuff.

I love this family drama playing out in the midst of these horrific events. It helps humanise the story. Jess is in turn both the victim and the survivor. Ellie is a force for good, Liz a force for evil. All manner of bloody mayhem unfolds around them but there at its heart, this is a story about the complex relationship between these three women. Ultimately, I dont think Ellie and Liz’s motivations are really that different from one another. They want the best for those they care for. Sure, Liz’s definition of care may be open to interpretation but her maternal instincts do exist, however twisted they may be. 

Survival-based horror, like The Hollows, always gets me thinking about how well I would fare in a similar circumstance. The entities responsible for all the death hunt by sound which doesn’t bode well for me. I lack any real sense of spatial awareness and clomp around like a bear with a sore head most of the time. Being quiet really isn’t in my wheelhouse. Basically, I reckon I’d be dead in the first five to ten minutes. 

How can I best describe this novel? At first glance, The Hollows can be viewed as the bastard child of Emmerdale, 30 Days of Night*, Pitch Black and some ancient, eldritch horror. That’s great, but if you look deeper there is much more to enjoy. The apocalyptic events that surround Ellie and her friends have consequences. Characters are forced to confront their failings, they are tested and some are found wanting. Daniel Church is spoiling us. Not only are we getting first-rate horror we’re also offering keen insight into how our actions define our humanity. This novel is the perfect nightmare fuel for those long dark winter evenings. Based on what I now know, going forward  I’ll be sleeping with the light on. An extra torch with spare batteries or some candles wouldn’t go amiss either. 

The Hollows is published by Angry Robot Books and is available now. Highly recommended. 

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the soundtrack to No Exit by Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins. Each new track offers a growing sense of dread. Tense and just the right side of creepy make this album feel like an ideal fit. 

*This isn’t a spoiler by the way. In this case, vampires have been supplanted by something far, far worse. 


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