Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Review: The Absence by Bill Hussey

After Bill Hussey’s stunning debut novel, Through A Glass, Darkly, I proclaimed Hussey to be “a new master of horror”. So, when I found out he had a new novel, titled The Absence, I was ecstatic to check it out! Through A Glass, Darkly was such an amazing work, I wasn’t sure how Hussey could do better…but now that I’ve read The Absence, I see that his immense talent continues to grow!

The Nightingale family has been beset by tragedy as of late. Eldest son Joe is tormented by a horrific car accident that took his mother’s life and that he blames himself for. Father Richard is a closet alcoholic that doesn’t have a close relationship with his sons and believes his wife was claimed by what he called “the absence” far before her death. This “absence” has haunted him for years. Then there is younger son Bobby, who uses drug as an escape and blames himself for a former friend’s recent suicide.

When Richard discovers that they’ve inherited an old millhouse in the country from his late wife’s distant relative named Muriel Sutton, he decides to take his family there for summer holiday to restore the property and hopefully bring them all closer together.

Little do the Nightingales know that the old millhouse is swathed in dark shadows and has a long, tragic history of murder and death. Muriel Sutton herself murdered her young sister Alice in the millhouse and there has been a rash of disappearances in the vicinity of the house for years. Just what old evil hides in the house’s shadows and why has it lured the Nightingale family to it?

Bill Hussey yet again succeeds in creating a darkly gothic tale that features ghosts, guilt, and a god that hasn’t forgotten those that have forsaken him. Hussey’s prose carries a palatable, building dread that will send shivers down your spine and have you looking over your shoulder long after you’ve closed the book.

The story focuses mostly on the Nightingale family but also takes time to establish Muriel Sutton’s story, along with the millhouse’s dark history with missing persons and murder. The story moves from just-plain-creepy ghost story to a far deeper place of age-old evil. Make no mistake, this is no run-of-the-mill (pardon the pun) ghost story, but a book that offers so much more. If this book doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will!

I very much enjoyed the backstory of the Fens (land where old marshes have dried up due to humans diverting the marsh water elsewhere or building dams) in England and the old superstitions and beliefs of the marshland people. This really added much more depth to the story and made the “villain” that much more terrifying. Hussey’s descriptions of the once-lush marshland as well as the millhouse shrouded in shadow and secrets create an atmosphere of slowly building dread and carry that creepy tone throughout the novel.

The contrast between the hot summer and the cold interior of the millhouse was not lost on me, either. Despite the harshness of the exterior weather, Hussey still manages to create a menacing presence within the interior of the millhouse, a place where even the harshest sun cannot penetrate deep shadows. The unrelentingly bright exterior only manages to magnify the shadowy, unknown interior of the millhouse, making it even more frightening. Even with the hottest summer recorded in England as a backdrop for the story, Hussey still manages to send cold chills up the characters’ and readers’ spines.

Much care is devoted to developing each of the Nightingales, so that the reader knows their hopes, dreams and nightmares. We feel we know them quite well from beginning to end and yet also know how the millhouse will distort and use their secrets and sins. The millhouse itself and its related characters are fascinatingly fearsome, each clouded in mystery and made extremely scary. Little ghostly Alice, sitting in her small rocking chair in the millhouse and dripping black water, is extremely menacing and will make your skin crawl! A few other frightening characters pop up, but I can’t say any more for fear of giving too much away!

I am afraid that no amount of words could ever adequately describe the masterpiece of horror that Hussey has created with The Absence. Once I picked the book up I loathed to put it down again! It wraps you in a shroud of dark dread that you will find hard to escape from. Yet, Hussey’s writing makes me a happy prisoner and I can’t wait to be a slave to his words with his third novel!

Available from Amazon!

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