"The Hollow Ones: the Blackwood Tapes Vol. 1" by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan (ARC review)

"Odessa Hardwicke's life is derailed when she's forced to turn her gun on her partner, Walt Leppo, a decorated FBI agent who turns suddenly, inexplicably violent while apprehending a rampaging murderer. The shooting, justified by self-defense, shakes the young FBI agent to her core. Devastated, Odessa is placed on desk leave pending a full investigation. But what most troubles Odessa isn't the tragedy itself - - - it's the shadowy presence she thought she saw fleeing the deceased agent's body after his death. Questioning her future with the FBI and her sanity, Hardwicke accepts a low-level assignment to clear out the belongings of a retired agent in the New York office. What she finds there will put her on the trail of a mysterious figure named John Silence, a man of enormous means who claims to have been alive for centuries, and who is either an unhinged lunatic or humanity's best and only defense against unspeakable evil. "

(This book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review - - - the only change made from the ARC version to the final version is that the main character is NOT named John Silence, but Hugo Blackwood)

I've grown up watching a lot of Guillermo Del Toro's movies. One of my favorites that he was the screenwriter for is Hellboy. Yet, I spent almost four months at the beginning of this year playing the video game Death Stranding, which features Del Toro as a main character. I bring the former and latter up because they rank very high on some of my favorite things list, and I believe that The Hollow Ones is one of the best books I have read in a long time. This is one of those few rare books which I wish I could live in as a lover of the paranormal/occult.

Odessa Hardwicke - - - an FBI greenhorn - - - is ordering dinner with her partner, Walt Leppo, when they get a phone call that someone is on a shooting rampage from an airplane. (Hardwicke looks up to Leppo as a father figure, and he sees her as a daughter) We learn that the two have been on a corruption case involving a politician's former deputy chief of staff- - - they suddenly realize that the airplane may be tied to this man, and he may also be the one going on the killing spree. The pair speed off to the deputy chief's home in fear that he may be going to kill his recently divorced wife, who was waiting to receive not only their huge house, but a nice lump sum of money.

When Hardwicke and Leppo get to the house, after stopping the deputy chief, Hardwicke suddenly finds herself holding a gun on her partner while he tries to murder a little girl. She has only two choices to make: a) kill her partner, and face the backlash of shooting an agent in the line-of-duty or b) let him kill the girl and possibly herself- - - Hardwicke chooses to shoot and kill Leppo. Immediately after this, she sees something like a heatwave leave Leppo's body and disappear. When other agents arrive to the crime scene, Hardwicke keeps this information to herself, wanting to know instead why her partner suddenly turned into a murderer. Pending an investigation, Hardwicke is put on desk duty, including errands that the Bureau doesn't want to deal with. Enter Agent Earl Solomon.

On order by the FBI, Hardwicke is sent to clean out an office used by a retired agent that was hospitalized for a stroke. She takes his things to the hospital (not knowing what to do with them), and while discussing her plight with him and revealing that she had seen a sort of heat vapor leave Leppo's body, Solomon quickly tells her to write a letter to a man named John Silence, and place it in a nearly invisible mailbox in the Wallstreet area of New York.

From this point on, the book really begins to take off, and the fact that the authors brought in the religion of Palo (the Mayombe branch) is fascinating for anyone interested in the occult. The buildup of the story is really enjoyable, too, especially when Hardwicke decides to write and deliver the letter.

Palo Mayombe cauldrons
A set of Palo Mayombe's cauldrons that are used throughout the story. Image credited to PaloMayombe.org

Readers also get to see Solomon's story from years before when he was one of the first African Americans to be recruited into the FBI. We see Solomon being sent to Mississippi in 1962, where a number of lynchings of African Americans have occurred, but the FBI hasn't been called in until the last murder: a lynching of a white man. Solomon can't help but question if he was only brought on this case because he is African American. Ignoring the bigotry, Solomon does his job, and comes across a young boy who is possessed by some sort of demon. The boy tells Solomon to bring him Silence, a man who Solomon has never heard of.

John Silence is also an interesting character; a nearly 500-year-old occult detective. We also get to see flashbacks of his life in the 1500's, learning about his occupation as a barrister, and his first encounter with the paranormal- - - something that has plagued him since- - - as well as his teacher in the occult. In the chapters of today, Silence is a mysterious figure, and carries himself much like a modern day Sherlock Holmes. Even by the end of the book, readers are still left with questions over what Silence has been through in the last 500 years. He, having only met Solomon 58 years prior- - - the two have a huge history together. Proven by the fact of how many 'cases' Solomon has hidden in his private records room that the two have embarked on together.

The Hollow Ones is a very enjoyable book, but I could only give it 3 out of 5 stars. The rating is because the authors- - - Del Toro and Hogan- - - used so many details, like the make and model of a passing vehicle, that it would interrupt the flow of the story, being bogged down by it. One other problem that I had was with the character Laurena; she was a 'filler character' (a character that is brought in just to make something happen in the story), but she was written to be Hardwicke's best friend. This was highly unbelievable with the two times she showed up in the story.

I really, really hope that Del Toro and Hogan decide to make this a series, and that the rest of the books show us Solomon's and Silence's journeys together! I highly recommend this book to people who love the paranormal/occult crime books.

My rating:

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