By: Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Odessa Hardwicke’s life is derailed when she’s forced to turn her gun on her partner, Walt Leppo, a decorated FBI agent who turns suddenly, inexplicably violent while apprehending a rampaging murderer. The shooting, justified by self-defense, shakes the young FBI agent to her core. Devastated, Odessa is placed on desk leave pending a full investigation. But what most troubles Odessa isn’t the tragedy itself-it’s the shadowy presence she thought she saw fleeing the deceased agent’s body after his death.
Questioning her future with the FBI and her sanity, Hardwicke accepts a low-level assignment to clear out the belongings of a retired agent in the New York office. What she finds there will put her on the trail of a mysterious figure named Hugo Blackwood, a man of enormous means who claims to have been alive for centuries, and who is either a sociopath or humanity’s best and only defense against unspeakable evil.
Guillermo Del Toro’s creative vision has given him a cult following for his takes on superheroes and fairy tales. Everyone who has ever seen Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, or The Shape of Water knows that his creatures are designed to be hauntingly beautiful. Memorable, if nothing else. I don’t know much about the work of Chuck Hogan, but I figured anything Del Toro worked on would be substantially creepy and oddly romantic. The creepy aspect left something to be desired, but the potential romance is definitely there.
What I was not expecting of this book was for the story to seem fairly generic. It’s a memorable story, but not one that would leave a lasting impact on the reader like his collaboration with Cornelia Funke for Pan’s Labyrinth. The Hollow Ones is an “every man’s” story that could appeal to plenty of people without a fascination with Del Toro or even knowing who he is. This element made the story easy to digest and the pacing was well set though I wonder if my ease with reading this book came from the way in which it was written or my lack of emotional investment in the story.
Topics of racism, demons, the KKK, and tragic murder should spark a sense of tension in a story and also an emotional exhaustion from dealing with such heavy topics. I didn’t experience that emotional attachment because the book handled these topics as the characters seem to handle life, which is to say, clinically. Often for me, strong emotions are what cause me to take breaks while reading a book, needing to digest it in chunks rather than all at once. Had I dedicated the time to do so, this is definitely a story that I could have finished in a matter of a day or two.
The main strength of the narrative came from the layout and how the story would jump between three different time periods. The distant past is set in 1500s London, the recent past is 1960s Mississippi, and the present is 2019 Newark, NJ. The flipping between three eras is more engaging than just two since those chapters tended to be shorter and kept the story moving. The flashbacks are the main ways we learn about the side characters and how they ended up in their present situations.
The character of Blackwood is of course my favorite as most young, white women seem to be attracted to prickly, intelligent, well-groomed British men in trench coats. Just look at Sherlock. The undercurrent of the story involving Blackwood’s wife seemed very forced at times but made sense in the end, so I won’t dock the story points for that.
I look forward to reading the second book in the series whenever it comes out in the future. It’s okay to enjoy books just because they are fun rather than informative or require self-reflection. The Hollow Ones doesn’t really ask to be analyzed. It’s just meant to be experienced.
Overall rating: 4