A beautifully twisted Victorian gothic horror/crime novel. This is a gripping read from start to finish, full of twists and turns and enough blood and gore to satisfy even the most blood-thirsty reader.
This story tells the tale of one Samuel Weaver who is established from the outset, not so much as a flawed hero, but as a fairly despicably amoral and elitist antihero who lusts after the macabre. This is a character with a very high opinion of himself and his abilities who considers himself at the very top of his game and who, unsurprisingly, falls in way out of his depth. Sam’s character journey takes him to new heights and new lows and it’s fair to say his development as a character prove to be one of the most compelling parts of the story.
The tone for the novel is established very much from the outset as the narrative moves from one gory murder scene to another, each described in exquisite detail, and each more gruesome than the last. This is certainly not a book for the squeamish. Gradually, as the story unfolds, the plot thickens and we are taken deep into a very satisfying story of the occult. All in all, this is a traditional gothic horror and will satisfy any such reader. I could easily imagine the book as a classic-era Hammer Horror, with all the necessary strange and fascinating characters you’d expect in such a story making an appearance: the drunken, heroic veteran police officer, the east-end smart mouthed crooks, the haunted landlords and the sinister occult figures that emerge from the very heights of society.
As I suggested above, Holbrook proves himself a master of description. Whether describing crime scenes, bustling streets or deserted villages, the narrative always has a distinct sense of place and atmosphere, and this proves very effective in maintaining the undertones of horror. Equally, his use of pace and tension is, on the whole, superb. The novel weaves through two separate but parallel threads, both full of intrigue, and Holbrook uses these to expert affect, keeping the reader forever in suspense and wanting more. Furthermore, he has clearly put a great deal of research into making this as realistic a supernatural horror as possible. The use of the Kentish village of Pluckley in particular is a nice touch and helps to weave this tale into established ghost stories.
It’s not a novel without flaws. Some of the characters felt a little two-dimensional or inconsistent, and there are moments in the narrative where the pace and tension Holbrook had taken such pains to develop are dropped unnecessarily. The biggest flaw came in the fairly drawn out sections of exposition in the later half of the story. A particular chapter, which came on the back of some really great writing, when the pacing was at its height, seemed to drop everything for a gentlemanly fireside chat and, whilst I felt that scene had the potential to be truly creepy, given the nature of the interlocutor, it felt that the author was more concerned to demonstrate the extent of his research into Finnish folklore. The folk story was certainly interesting, but it felt a little superfluous and the narrative struggled to regain its momentum for a while afterwards.
But the above is a minor complaint. On the whole, this was an excellent read and I believe this is a writer we should see a lot from in the future. A definite page turner and a real treat to encounter.