Hell Hollow / Ronald Kelly Cemetery Dance / October 2009 Reviewed by: Dead in the South
Coming of age stories have always been big in the horror genre. Stephen Kings
It, Robert R. McCammons Boys Life, and Dan Simmons Summer of Night are just a few of the
classics that have explored this theme. Ronald Kellys next book, Hell Hollow, fits into this sub-category,
and it holds its own quite nicely against the aforementioned
Ninety years ago, terrible things happened in rural Hawkshaw
County, Tennessee, near the Town of Harmony. An evil man named Augustus Leech
came to the community, selling quack medicine that purported to cure ills, but
instead, poisoned twelve small children. The adults of Harmony took their
revenge on Leech, and since, his bones have lain in the supposedly haunted area
called Hell Hollow. But evil doesnt die easily, and a killer on the run from
the law will intersect with those remains to bring old horror anew to
The book focuses on four kids, Keith McLeod from Atlanta,
forced to spend the summer with his (in his mind) bumpkin grandfather (who had
his own encounter with Leech when he was a child), his cousin Rusty, Maggie,
and their wheelchair-bound friend Chuck. In a summer of discovery, they, and a
rape victim named Alison set on revenge, will be the only ones who can stop
Leech and save Harmony.
Since the horror boom of the eighties, a lot of
writers have forgotten a basic rule: If you dont develop your characters and
bring them to life, readers wont care what happens to them. Too many authors
have gone for gore over substance, and as a result, a lot of modern books seem
inconsequential. If you dont care whether a character lives or dies, it doesnt
matter how gory his death scene is written.
Ronald Kelly (The Sick Stuff, Midnight Grinding, Fleshwelder) is old
school, and I mean that with the highest possible praise. Although his writing
does deliver the shocks, as seen in his popular collection The Sick Stuff as well as this novel, he
takes the time to let us get to know Alison, the four kids, Keiths grandfather,
and others, so by the time we get to the climax of the story, their struggles
have meaning for us. Kelly also does a great job capturing the rhythms of
rural Southern life.
Coming in at around 500 pages, this is a long novel, but it doesnt read like
one. When I became too busy to read after I received this, I took a days
annual leave to finish it up. Hell
Hollow is slated for an October or November release from Cemetery Dance
Publications, and I cant recommend it enough. You can pre-order it by clicking here.
Im looking forward to receiving the official release from Cemetery Dance to
read it again. The beautiful cover artwork is by Alex McVey.
A note to readers from a more urban setting, or maybe just for those from
outside the South: It may seem strange that a rural Bible-Belt Southern town
would have an area called Hell Hollow, but its not. I grew up in an extremely
rural part of Alabama, and we had local sections called Hellacious Acres (a
cool name, I think) and our own Creepy Hollow, where an old bridge spanned a
narrow creek in a place where heavy forest growth cut out all light, and
strange noises were heard in the dark. It was traditional for us to take dates
to Creepy Hollow, park on the bridge (it got no traffic to speak of), then
discover our cars would mysteriously refuse to start once our date reached the
point where she demanded we leave the scary place. Hey, if youre not good
looking enough to make them cling to you, scaring them can work in a pinch.