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AUTHOR: Brian Keene
PUBLISHER: Leisure Books
In a small Central Pennsylvania town that borders a woodland with a sinister reputation, women begin disappearing. Strange pipe music can be heard drifting in from the woods, which has a strange effect on the libidos of those who hear it. The trees in the woods seem to move with a will of their own. Our hero, Adam Senft, a mid level mystery writer, and a small group of his neighbors, realize the supernatural evil behind the strange goings on, and determine to put a stop to it, leading to a showdown with the force orchestrating the disappearances.
That’s the basic premise behind Brian Keene’s “Dark Hollow”. As you can probably guess, the central villain is a satyr. That’s not a spoiler, it gets revealed pretty early on. This is most definitely pulp horror from the word go. And while it is far from Keene’s best work, if you go into it realizing that it IS pulp horror, you’ll probably enjoy it for what it is.
I guess one could argue that Keene’s prior works are pulp horror too, but books like “The Rising” and “City of the Dead” broke more new ground than “Dark Hollow” does. There are a few clichés here that keep it from getting to the level of truly great storytelling, I think, but “Dark Hollow” still has a few things going for it.
For one thing, the satyr is a villain not often exploited in horror literature, to my knowledge. Besides Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and King’s “The Lawnmower Man”, I can’t really think of any other stories that centered around satyrs. Machen’s tale is generally regarded as a horror classic, and it’s obvious Keene drew inspiration from it (there is in fact a hidden Machen homage in “Dark Hollow”), but you’ve got to give Keene points for originality in choosing this subject for his story, seeing as this is territory where few have deigned to tread. It’s definitely a refreshing change from zombies, vampires and werewolves.
His tale is certainly more graphic (in both the sex and the violence) than “The Great God Pan”, which was a product of the Victorian modesty of its day. Keene operates under no such constraints, and the climax in particular is pretty satisfying* in that respect. So if you like gore, there’s some good bits at the end.
The central character, Adam, is also fleshed out pretty well. He’s believable and sympathetic. Most of the other characters are likeable enough, but he doesn’t spend much time developing them. It’s a little too convenient, though, that one of them has just enough esoteric knowledge that he can point them in the right direction early on in the story. This leads them to discover the cliché secret stash of arcane lore and the tell all diary of a well known mystic from the area who disappeared years earlier, becoming a sort of folk tale himself. And when they can’t translate one of the books well enough to help them, they suddenly become magical adepts, improvising spells of their own in a fashion that can seem a little too off the cuff. It didn’t ruin the story or anything, but you immediately get the sense you don’t hold any classic of the genre in your hands at this point. Maybe I’m just being nit picky, because there is a certain logic to how they do this, and I guess someone else reading it may think it was cool. But to me, it cost the book a few points.
In any event, I’d also give Keene points for erudition. His works are always well researched (the Hebrew lore that forms the basis for the demons that cause the zombie plague in “The Rising”, or the mermaid/Leviathian portion of “The Conqueror Worms”, for instance), and “Dark Hollow” is no exception. I sense this area of Pennsylvania may become Keene’s answer to Castle Rock and Derry, since this book, “Terminal” and “Ghost Walk” are all centered there, and parts of “The Rising” take place there as well. After reading this book, you learn a little bit about a form of folk magic called Powwow that was apparently practiced there in years past. Keene seems to know a fair bit about this practice; enough to convince me he knew what he was talking about, anyway.
Keene seems to be taking another page from King’s playbook, in that some of his stories take place in the same universe and involve some of the same characters. The detective investigating the disappearances in “Dark Hollow”, for instance, is the same one that conducted the hostage negotiations in ‘Terminal”, and the characters in “Dark Hollow” were aware of the happenings in “Terminal”. I’m not sure if that helps or hurts the story on its face, but Detective Ramirez’ willingness to believe in paranormal explanations for things after the events of “Terminal” plays a central role in getting the characters out of an encounter with the police they might not otherwise have extricated themselves from. I wonder if Keene wrote himself into a corner with that encounter, and this was just a convenient way out of it. I kind of doubt it, since the encounter didn’t have to take place at all for anything central to the story – except maybe more bodies to kill before he started whittling down the main characters during the final confrontation, or providing a basis for how the mystery and our heroes’ involvement in it were eventually explained away by the authorities in the epilogue – and he could have written it out of the story completely and it would probably have still gotten to the same place. Detective Ramirez’ reactions during this encounter strain your credulity a bit, which can be a turn off.
The pacing is also a little odd. It starts off with a bang**, as the satyr is revealed to Adam within the first 10 pages, and the book then goes into a long build up period, before an explosive climax***. It just seems like a weird way to structure a story. Then again, I guess “It” did kind of the same thing with the death of Georgie Denbrough starting off the book, and then nearly 1100 pages of build up before the climax. It certainly worked there, with the early horrific kill functioning as a very effective attention getter. I suppose one could argue the lead off scene of “Dark Hollow” does the same, but I still think it’s kind of putting the cart before the horse.
Why You Might Like It: Well researched mystic lore, and what can be construed as a nifty modern twist on it. An unusual choice for an antagonist. Decent gore at the end. The tie in with previous Keene works. An enjoyable, satisfying climax.
Why You Might Not Like It: A few too many convenient and cliché plot devices to move the story along. The tie in to previous Keene works (this can cut both ways). Odd pacing.
Overall, though, for all its faults, this was a fun read. You find yourself wanting to see it through to the end, and nodding to yourself in satisfaction when the villain gets his comeuppance, **** in a most appropriate fashion. Kind of like you would at the end of one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action flicks.
*No pun intended, I swear.
***OK, maybe I meant that one.
****Now I’m just being silly.