Cliché can be a wonderful thing. Wielded well, it can create a shortcut, get the reader in the mood and relieve an author of the need for tedious detail. However, cliché is a twin-edged sword.
Hollow House by Greg Chapman is as pure a slice of American Gothic as you will ever find, with Robert Bloch and Steven King never far away. They whisper softly through the pages as the reader is introduced to the horrors of the Kemper House, a most imposing edifice on a most unassuming street. This street has it all, from serial killers and intrepid reporters to suicidal teens and dads with a penchant for domestic violence. Plenty of scope, then, for a tale of blood in abundance.
The Kemper House is a house with many secrets, secrets it keeps from almost everyone, including the other residents of unlucky Willow Street. For the Kemper House is more than just a gothic manse, it has, if not a soul, then certainly an agenda. It awakens one day, to spread the corruption of its construction amongst the neighbours. Best buckle yourselves in, because if we’re not in Kansas anymore, we’re nowhere near Ramsey Street either.
Slowly we see the clean wholesomeness of the street decay, as the stench of the Kemper House forces its way behind the facades of the other houses, drawing their own corruptions, sins and mortalities out into the light. Marriages break, sons stray, and evil ferments in dark shelters.
Chapman wields these clichés like a man behind the wheel of a racing car for the first time: he knows how it works, he’s seen it many times, but now he’s in control it’s harder than it looks. The story moves at a lightning pace, which is refreshing, but the reader hardly registers the situation or the characters before they’re thrown headlong into the meat-grinder. We find ourselves reading about strangers, not people we know, and we wish it would slow down to let us catch our breath. This was always the strength of American gothic, the placing of the reader in a familiar setting before the world took a sideways turn and headed for the ditch.
The story hops along, never letting the reader rest at one grisly scene before fresh terrors arrive. Its pace is the book’s chief success, and Chapman should be congratulated for not bogging us down in detail, although a little more early on would have been nice.
A tale best read with all the lights on.
Reviewed by D C White
Rating out of 10: 6
Hollow House will be released on 25 July 2016 in paperback and eBook through Omnium Gatherum Books.