Desper Hollow by Elizabeth Massie
Genre: Adult Horror
Publisher: Apex Publications
Release date: June 3 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher
In a word: Deliverance with zombies! Good bloody fun combined with comedic timing, an authentic southern back-woods voice, and an unexpected hint of heart.
Ain’t nothing else to do in Desper Hollow. Ain’t nothing else to do with my life but play with the lives of other things. – Jenkie Mustard
I started reading Desper Hollow right before I left for Comic Con, and since it’s a fairly short book, I figured I’d finish it before I left, no problem. Then I got caught up with packing and preparing for the trip, and I didn’t finish it after all. I thought for sure I’d have plenty of time at the convention to read (standing in lines, etc), but that didn’t work out either! Needless to say, I didn’t finish it until after I returned. But honestly, this is the type of story you’ll want to devour in a couple of days at the most. It’s fast-paced, gruesome and full of stereotypical characters that you’ll like nonetheless, simply because they are stereotypes and therefore hysterically funny.
Elizabeth Massie is a veteran writer and a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and I read lots of her books when I first started collecting horror books twenty years ago. It was so nice to be asked to read a book of hers after so many years, and I wasn’t disappointed. Her writing skills and pacing are top-notch.
The story begins shortly after a tragedy: teenager Suze Mustard has inexplicably gone crazy and set fire to the tiny Appalachian Mountain town of Beaver Dam, killing dozens of people in the process. No one knows exactly what happened to make her do such a thing (or why she cut off her own hand afterward), but from this horrid beginning the answers begin to emerge. The undisputed matriarch of the mountain, Granny Mustard, has been experimenting with her homemade moonshine, trying to make a magical brew that will allow her to live forever. But Granny’s experimenting went wrong somehow, and now the dead are coming back to life.
When Granny’s granddaughter Jenkie decides to carry on her experiments after Granny dies in the fire, she contacts a television show in Los Angeles to come and see her “hollows,” thinking it will make her rich and famous. But things don’t go quite the way she plans. As strangers and family members alike converge on Desper Hollow, it’s every man for himself.
I had so much fun reading Desper Hollow! Massie’s descriptions of the zombies, or “hollows” as Jenkie calls them, are deliciously grisly, as their insatiable hunger drives them to tear into the bodies of animals and yes, humans. Even better is the way Massie switches the point of view from character to character so we can see into the minds of these creatures.
What really makes this book shine are the characters. Not only do we have a whole bunch of Mustards who are all scary in their own right (some of them are gun-toting backwoods mountain folk who have their own way of dealing with trespassers), but there’s an emotional storyline between a girl named Kathy Shaw and her father Hank. (And you’ll see just how Kathy and Hank fit into the Mustards’ story when you read the book!) There’s also some comedic relief with Jack and Sam, two guys from Los Angeles who have made the trek to see if Jenkie’s claims about zombies are true. Ah, poor Jack and Sam. Their trip to Desper Hollow is one they’ll never forget…
One of my favorite characters is a hollow named Armistead, a man who was traveling through town when he was unfortunately attacked by a hollow. Now he’s a hollow himself, and has been captured by Jenkie and locked up in a trailer, living on the tiny creatures of the forest that are the only things Jenkie gives him to eat. What I loved about Armistead is that he isn’t quite all the way gone. He still has a spark of humanity left in him, and he even has a conscience. He knows it’s wrong to want to kill people, even if he doesn’t know why. Massie gives Armistead a purpose, and his mission becomes clear near the end of the story when he connects with Hank in a very emotional way.
Massie has a way of using very few words to describe things perfectly:
The insurance man is thin, wearing a white shirt and skinny black tie that looks like a snake flattened by a tractor.
I laughed throughout Desper Hollow, even as I cringed at the descriptions of Jenkie Mustard, as seen through the eyes of big-city producer Jack. I loved when Jack and Sam ran into some Mustards and Jack told Sam, who grew up in the area, that he must get them out of trouble, because “They’re your people, Sam!” I also loved the banter between Jenkie and her brother Bink, who is helping her control the hollows despite the fact that he thinks the whole idea of making hollows is ridiculous.
There’s a mysterious book of magic that turns ice-cold when opened, a book that figures into Granny Mustard’s success with raising the dead. Wait until you read what happens to the book by the end of the story—brilliant!
If you love your zombie stories sprinkled with humor as well as gore, Desper Hollow is a must-read. Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.