Zombies, moonshine, reality television, mountain-bred clans, black magic, and small town preachers. If there were ever a more volatile literary recipe, one with equal potential for going down smooth or exploding in your face, Desper Hollow is it.
By the time the story opens, Granny Mustard's moonshine has already prompted a zombie infestation, and the entire town of Beaver Dam is already a smoking ruin. Things falter a bit from there, as Elizabeth Massie establishes the fullness of her setting, along with the POV characters who will carry us through, but it's a quick read once she gets things back on track.
Before we get into what I liked about the novel, I have to mention a few things that kept me from becoming as deeply engaged as I would have liked. I love dark humor and, for the most part, it's used well here. Where it failed for me, however, was in the exploitation of hillbilly stereotypes, something I really expected Massie to rise above. Similarly, while I appreciate a story that takes the time to really explore the themes of good versus evil, those themes became a bit too 'church' for my tastes. That may be less of an issue for some readers, but it just struck me the wrong way.
As for the characters, I'm not sure how I feel about them. I didn't find any of them particularly likable, but I did find them well-developed and (in most cases) definitely more than just genre stock or stereotypes. They all had distinct voices that not only differentiated them, but added a different nuance to each POV chapter.
Now, for the fun stuff - let's talk about what I did like. First off, the zombies are brilliant. Although they're definitely of the faster/smarter breed of contemporary zombies, there's also a resurrection element to them that reminded me very much of Stephen King's Pet Sematary. Similarly, the occult element was a nice touch, providing a more supernatural origin for the undead than virus, plague, or unknown contagion. The violence and the gore were superb, over-the-top in so many respects, but never to the point of risking self-parody.
The drama, the suspense, and the tension of the backwoods hunt that consumes much of last half of the book was very well-played out, keeping me reading despite my concerns about the 'church' elements. Finally, the whole reality show angle worked far better than I anticipated, adding a great bit of thematic contrast to the moonshine and hillbillies, without resorting to outright camp.
While I wouldn't count it one of my favorite horror reads of the year, it was a strong tale, well-told, with some turns of phrase and narrative exposition that really transcends the genre.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins