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Tabula Rasa

Hollow House

By Greg Chapman, Omnium Gatherum, 2016

A Review by Kyla Lee Ward

A copy of this work was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
"Isn't that the point of nightmares - to scare?" He looked at the house with its peeling, shadowed walls. "Haunted houses are all alike."

Something bad has happened in the old Kemper house. The first hint the neighbours have of this is the stench that awakens them this bright, summer morning. What the police discover is shocking, but the fact is that even worse things happened here a long time ago, and more are on the way. Over the next forty-eight hours, they will discover to their cost that this haunted house is proactive.

Greg Chapman's debut novel reads like homage to the work of Laymon and Herbert in the eighties, or possibly to film director John Carpenter. At 173 pages, it is the right length for a film and sets a sizzling pace, racking up the body count with glee. The setting may be Every Avenue in Generic City, but Chapman populates it with an entertaining variety of characters. Many of them have secrets, like single parent Alice Cowley, who is so protective of her daughter. All of them have flaws, like journalist Ben Traynor, who initially can't believe his luck as this sensational story develops on his doorstep. As Chapman switches from point of view to point of view, the reader sees them react, each in their own way, as the house reaches out to them.

The house knows these people. It has watched some of them since birth. It knows their hopes and their fears, and coupled with the lack of any protagonist more central than Traynor, this is what gives this book its peculiar tone. Or perhaps that should read, any human protagonist. For the house is omnipresent and omniscient, and although its victims are drawn with sympathy, this is the perspective the reader comes to share. The overall sensation is one of impending doom.

But human frailty is still the overall theme. This little street, whose residents never really paid each other any attention, becomes a microcosm of "all the rooms". What it contains, if perceived in its entirety, might very well drive someone to turn their back on the world and embrace what lies beyond. There are potential remedies: love, compassion and self-respect. But will they be found in time?

As said, the pace never lets up. Those different perspectives, all those different plot threads, run parallel on the same ticking clock. The consequences of any action spread throughout the city and it all winds tighter and tighter, as the reach of the house extends and the survivors draw closer together. It makes for a fast and gripping read and Chapman isn't one to imply his horrors. The reader will know not only the smells of the Kemper House but its textures and echoes. The feel of splinters and of steel penetrating flesh. She will gaze upon the visage of what dwells there and comprehend its true goal.

A veteran of comic book scripts, with novellas and short stories to his name, Chapman is already established in the horror genre. It may not exactly break new ground, but Hollow House rises on solid foundations indeed.

 

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