Nick Belsey is a detective on the brink of losing his job. His inability to control his addictions has overshadowed his skills as a detective and made him some high-ranking enemies. He's penniless and homeless when he's called in on a missing person's report in the elite Bishops Avenue section of London. Alexei Devereux is the wealthy recluse Belsey is called in to investigate; he's left a suicide note but no sign of his body. The wheels in Belsey's devious head start turning as he sees a way to escape his present dead-end situation; all he has to do is steal Devereux's identity long enough to steal his money and then he can flee London forever. Somethings, however, are easier said than done.
If you're keeping track this is my second debut from a debut publishing imprint this week. The Hollow Man is U.K. author Oliver Harris' debut novel and it's published this month in the US by Harper's new Bourbon Street Books. My review is part of the TLC Blog Tour.
The Hollow Man doesn't have a likable protagonist. It isn't a neat clean plot. But it's a book that won't let you turn away.
If you're a reader who has to like the protagonist, you're probably going to have problems with The Hollow Man. I'm a reader who needs to feel passionately about the characters; if I'm indifferent, that's when I put the book down. Harris invited me to feel passionately against his protagonist. And by the end, I knew he was all sorts of crooked, but I'll be darned if I didn't adore him.
Part of disliking Nick Belsey added to the suspense of the novel. There's an elaborate crime taking place, a sniper is systematically killing seemingly innocent people all over London, but the reader is also on the edge of his/her seat waiting for Belsey to get caught in his scheme. And you aren't really sure if you want him to be caught or not. The construction of this plot is quite brilliant in that respect.
The writing throughout is equal parts eloquent, witty and intense. Whether setting the scene:
"Above him, the crystals of a chandelier hung like tears too expensive to fall."
"With Pond Street taped off, the traffic had solidified, as if it was all part of a spreading rigor mortis."
Developing the characters:
"There was an overall carelessness to the man, like someone who'd been put together from badly written directions."
"He spoke in a clipped way, as if he resented speaking at all and expected hired people to roll the words out for him."
Or moving the plot:
"It was irritating, finding yourself involved in crime when all you were doing was being a pimp."
Harris uses concise, well-chosen words and literary devices. His humor is dark and sharp to match the atmosphere of the novel. Dialogue is natural and flows easily. He's combined all the perfect constructs with a story full of twisted criminals, and I couldn't put it down.
The Hollow Man easily joins my list of favorite debuts for 2012.
The Hollow Man was originally published in the UK in 2011, it is now available in trade paperback (ISBN: 9780062136718) from Bourbon Street Books in the US. To find out what other readers on the blog tour thought about The Hollow Man, check the TLC tour page for links.