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Monday, April 20, 2009

“The Absence” by Bill Hussey (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Through a Glass, Darkly

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Bill Hussey gave up a career in law to study creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University where he earned a Masters Degree, and is now the author of two novels: “Through a Glass, Darkly” and “The Absence”.

PLOT SUMMARY: It was a tragic accident. That is what his family tells Joe Nightingale, but the teenager is tormented by visions of his mother’s death.

Now, seven months after the fatal car crash, the Nightingales receive some unexpected news. They have inherited a house from a distant relative—the reclusive Muriel Sutton. Desperate to renew old bonds, the family decides to spend the summer at Daecher’s Mill. Here they hope to escape the shadows of the past.

But dark mysteries await them. Who are the guests that have been brought here over the years? Why did the late Muriel Sutton murder her strange little sister, Alice? And what is the connection between Joe Nightingale and this lonely Fenland millhouse?

There is also a presence in Daecher’s Mill. It looks and sounds like a little girl, but its eyes are old and its voice runs like water. It is a weaver of shadows. A creature of Absence

CLASSIFICATION: Like Bill Hussey’s debut, “The Absence” is old-school horror that marries psychological chills with graphic gruesomeness. Though once again reminiscent of early Barker, King, Koontz, et cetera, “The Absence” also reminded me a bit of J-Horror such as The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water. Highly recommended to any fan of the genre…

FORMAT/INFO:The Absence” is 448 pages long divided over three Parts, fifty-four numbered chapters, a Prologue/Epilogue, and several Interludes. Narration is in the third-person via Richard Nightingale and his two sons Joe and Bobby, as well as several minor POVs including Samantha Jones. “The Absence” is self-contained. April 23, 2009 marks the UK Trade Paperback publication of “The Absence” via
Bloody Books, a horror imprint of Beautiful Books Limited. Cover designed by Head Design.

ANALYSIS: Bill Hussey’sThrough a Glass, Darkly” was not only the best horror novel that I read in all of 2008, but it was also one of the year’s best debuts. So what would the author do for an encore? Well how about spinning another frightening tale of horror, mystery and the supernatural in “The Absence”…

The Absence” shares a number of similarities with “Through a Glass, Darkly” such as the use of mythology, folktales, and nursery rhymes; a mystery that unfolds through flashbacks; and themes that revolve around sins and dark secrets, but there are two key differences between the books. The first is the writing which is stronger in “The Absence”, particularly the characters:

Though Joe, Bobby and Richard Nightingale are less striking than the larger-than-life Crowman and the cursed hero Jack Trent from “Through a Glass, Darkly”, the protagonists in “The Absence” are much more compelling because they are just regular people tormented by the cruelties of life—nearly 18-year-old Joe blames himself for the death of their mother in a car accident seven months ago, 15-year-old Bobby is haunted by the recent suicide of a former friend, and Richard is an alcoholic who grieves for a wife that he lost many years before the accident. Each suffers greatly from the pain and guilt that they bear, and it is these emotions that are the driving force behind “The Absence”. But this only works because the author’s portrayal of the Nightingales—as well as the other characters in the book—is so convincing. In short, the characters in “The Absence” are characters that readers can relate to more easily than those in “Through a Glass, Darkly”, thus making the horror they’re experiencing in the book all the more terrifying…

Prose meanwhile, is once again descriptive and stylish, while the plot is engaging and will surprise the reader a time or two. Pacing though remains slow hampered by numerous flashbacks, and the author continues to utilize several instantly recognizable scare tactics, but overall I felt that Bill Hussey’s writing in “The Absence” was more confident and accomplished.

The second key difference between the two books is in their subject matter. Where “Through a Glass, Darkly” mixed horror, fantasy and some creative ideas like metempsychosis and a transdimensional library into an epic battle of good versus evil, “The Absence” is a more straightforward horror tale complete with played out elements like the ‘haunted house with a dark secret’—or in this case, a haunted mill—and the ‘evil supernatural presence’. Sure, the book features some interesting marshland folklore like the bog spirit Tiddy Mun and the intimate examination of guilt and sorrow is indeed chilling, but for the most part “The Absence” lacked the imagination of the author’s first novel and was more predictable. Plus, I was disappointed with the way Tiddy Mun was overcome which I thought lacked explanation and logic.

CONCLUSION: From a personal standpoint, I did not enjoy “The Absence” quite as much as “Through a Glass, Darkly” and felt that it was less creative, but I did think the new novel was better written and executed, not to mention much more haunting emotionally. Best of all, “The Absence” is undeniable proof that Bill Hussey is no one-hit wonder and that the author is going to be a force to reckon with in the genre for years to come…


Ben said...

Great review! I agree with you on all points and also belong to the minority of people who preferred TAGD over The Absence even though I loved them both.

Robert said...

Thanks Plinydogg :) This is my last review, so ejoy!


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