Hollow Ones by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

A review by Nalini Haynes

The prelude introduces us to a strange letterbox in Manhattan. Ironically, the letterbox is not a link to the Hollow Ones. It’s a link to their nemesis.

Earl Solomon is one of the first Black FBI agents in 1962 so his masters send him to the racist deep south to investigate the lynching of a white man. As you do. In a segregated town where resentments simmer – and white supremacy looks like erupting into even more violence – Solomon is not the investigator these white folks want. Although he is the investigator these white folks need.

Odessa is early in her FBI career in 2019 when a series of surreal but violent incidents ends with her shooting her partner before he murdered a child.

While on desk duty, her bosses send her to clean out Solomon’s desk. She winds up in a hospital visiting a dying man. Who tells her to drop a letter in a letterbox in Manhattan asking for help from Hugo Blackwood.

Hugo Blackwood was a lawyer in the 1580s. When John Dee enacted a rite, Blackwood – who was there as a witness only – was cursed, as was his wife. He now appears immortal and believes his role in life is to combat the evil, to right the wrong of that accursed summoning in the 16th century.

Tropes

The Hollow Ones follows a familiar plot structure: old hero dying; new hero must step up; wise man/mentor/hero (think Giles in Buffy but more active) steps in; side kicks have secrets… You get the idea. However, its familiarity is, in these unprecedented times, almost a balm to the soul, providing scary yet “safe” escapist reading.

And who wouldn’t prefer that the evil happening in the world was the result of demonic interference instead of selfish entitlement under the auspices of neoliberalism, white supremacy, eugenics… Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Trigger warning: lots of blood and gore. No sexual violence, though.

Racism

Del Toro has delved into history in his storytelling before, with Chronos and Pan’s Labyrinth to name but two examples. This time he’s in America’s Deep South and juxtaposing it with the present. However, the Hollow Ones does not preach.

Some may accuse this novel of failing to explore the issues. However, I felt the description of racism, the exposure of white supremacy and its impact, was more powerful because of its purely descriptive inclusion without interpretation or sermonising.

The verdict

The Hollow Ones is more Columbus than Angel although horror elements are the primary conflict. Racism is exposed in a “show don’t tell” manner, without sermonizing. The formula is familiar yet the story is compelling and, as I expect from Del Toro, unique. Far more bloody than Pan’s Labyrinth, it’s more like The Strain and just as mystical, and has a similar – perhaps stronger – element of romance. I highly recommend The Hollow Ones.

Book details

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9781529100952
Imprint: Del Rey (Penguin)
Format: Trade Paperback, 336 pages
Released: 2020
Category: fantasy, horror themes

The Hollow Ones: the Blackwood Tapes Vol 1