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Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Through a Glass, Darkly" by Bill Hussey

Read Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews’ INTERVIEW with Bill Hussey

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Bill Hussey gave up a career in law to study creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University where he earned a Masters Degree. “Through a Glass, Darkly” is Bill’s first novel and was inspired by the lonely Fen villages of Lincolnshire and a lifetime devoted to the horror story.

PLOT SUMMARY: Detective Inspector Jack Trent, the most effective CID officer in the history of the department, is having bad dreams. He has seen the murder of a child in a forest clearing at the hands of something indescribable. But these are more than dreams. They are visions of the future that Jack has tried for years to suppress. For something happened to Jack in his childhood; something that means he cannot touch another living person, that killed his mother, and that has returned to haunt his mind.

But before he can decipher the dream, Jack is assigned a missing persons case with Sergeant Dawn Howard, a woman that he cares for, but can never be with. Soon, they discover something strange about the disappearance of Simon Malahyde—something that eventually leads to the murder of children, a crazed priest, and a terrifying plot that revolves around Jamie, Dawn’s son . . . and the boy from Jack’s dream…

Now, in a race against time, Jack must make his stand and try to save Jamie’s life. But doubt remains. Can he face the mysterious Dr. Mendicant and the ancient Darkness of Crow Haven? Can he face the evil living inside himself? And what will he make of the Doctor’s final, devastating revelation?

CLASSIFICATION: Reminiscent of 80s era Clive Barker, Stephen King, Robert R. McCammon, Peter Straub and Dean Koontz, “Through a Glass, Darkly” is a traditional, yet chilling blend of police procedural, suspense, dark fantasy and supernatural horror that see-saws between the psychological and the macabre.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 448 pages divided over fifty-eight chapters, an Epilogue and seven Days—Friday 25th October 2002 through Thursday 31st October 2002—that are denoted with quotes from the Bible and famous persons/books. Narration is mostly in the third-person via several different POVs of characters both major and minor, but there are also a few first-person past-tense accounts. “Through a Glass, Darkly” ends in a manner that would make it difficult to write a follow-up, but characters like Jack Trent and Dr. Mendicant are tailor-made for sequels. July 10, 2008 marks the UK Trade Paperback publication of “Through a Glass, Darkly”, the second release through
Bloody Books (after Joseph D’Lacey’s Meat), a new horror imprint of Beautiful Books Limited. Cover designed by Head Design.

ANALYSIS: My love for horror can be traced back to the 80s when I grew up on a steady diet of such films as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Halloween, Creepshow, Hellraiser, Child’s Play and so on, and was cemented by the early works of Dean Koontz, Clive Barker, Robert R. McCammon, and Brian Lumley. Which probably explains why I enjoyed reading Bill Hussey’s debut novel so much. Because as far as tone, style, and subject matter, “Through a Glass, Darkly” is highly reminiscent of the decade, movies and books that made me fall in love with the genre.

Of the most notable familiarities, there is the iconic superpowered killer in Dr. Elijah Mendicant—also known as the Crowman—the haunted village and forest (Crow Haven, Redgrave Forest) with a dark past; body possession; and such classic tricks as something horrifying coming in through the TV, the character whose face never shows up in photographs or on video, and nightmarish visions that blur the line between reality and illusion. There’s even a song that accompanies the Crowman a la Freddy Kreuger:

He walks in the woods and he talks to the crows,
A bent old man, with a hole for a nose,
And holes for eyes: black as sin,
A man tore one out and a bird poked one in,
And he waits for a child, pure and good
That he can whisper to and take to his home in the wood.
Be very afraid of the trees and the grasses
When they move on their own,
The Crowman passes.

Of course, while “Through a Glass, Darkly” may retread some familiar territory, the book is not exactly a straightforward horror tale. There are several mysteries in the novel including a nice surprise twist at the end. Theology, history and mythology are all used and brilliantly add flavor to the story, specifically the concept of metempsychosis—the transmigration of the soul—and transfiguration. And there’s a liberal amount of fantasy stirred into the mix including a transdimensional library that features such permanent guests as Kit Marlowe; and the prophesied stranger, Jack Trent, who shares his body with them—spirits, demons or something else—that allow him to see visions of the future and the sins, tragedies and dark secrets of any person he touches. Speaking of Jack, both he and Mendicant are superb as hero and villain, the former because of his haunted past and cursed abilities which isolate him in a profound loneliness; and the latter because Mendicant is an emotional sadist whose evilness is not just terrifying, but on a level that automatically places him among the genre’s most memorable creations…

What I loved most about “Through a Glass, Darkly” though, was its depth. From Jack Trent, Father Asher Brody who has been fighting the evil of Crow Haven since 1976, the current pastor Father Christopher Garrett, Simon’s mother Anne Malahyde, Geraldine Pryce who taught Simon, and Mendicant himself to Crow Haven, the Redgrave Forest, the transmigration of souls, and the Yeager Library, every person, place and thing in the book has a story, and learning the history of each is one of the novel’s greatest joys. At the same time however, the frequent flashbacks hinder the main narrative which loses some of its immediacy because there is so much backstory.

As far as the writing, “Through a Glass, Darkly” is quite impressive, especially for a first effort, and is very solid in all areas including prose, characterization, research, imagination, and plotting. My only nitpicks are the pacing which I thought could have been ramped up a bit, and creating a more distinctive narrative voice, but neither is a real concern in the book.

CONCLUSION:Through a Glass, Darkly” is dark, disturbingly imaginative, skillfully written, features unforgettable characters, and relates a tale that is frightening, intense, and hauntingly tragic. In short, I can’t imagine reading a better horror debut in 2008. Not only that, but “Through a Glass, Darkly” is easily one of the best horror novels that I’ve read in the past few years, and if the genre keeps producing exciting new talent like Bill Hussey, then horror fiction is in excellent hands…


RedEyedGhost said...

Great review!

I'm very excited about this book... it's on my stack of books to order from the UK. I think the stack is now at 6, so I'm sure I'll be ordering them soon.

Robert said...

RedEyedGhost, thanks! I've been wanting to read this book for a while now, and it more than lived up to expectation :) Now I have to read Joseph D'Lacey's "Meat" :)

Mihai A. said...

Very good review, Robert! I'm glad you enjoyed the book :)
And thank you very much for the links :)

Robert said...

You're more than welcome Mihai :) And thank you for the initial review! Otherwise, I might not have heard of the book ;)


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