by Dan Wells
Published July 2012 by TOR
Copy provided by publisher in exchange for honest review
Dan Wells won instant acclaim for his three-novel debut about the adventures of John Wayne Cleaver, a heroic young man who is a potential serial killer. All who read the trilogy were struck by the distinctive and believable voice Wells created for John.
Now he returns with another innovative thriller told in a very different, equally unique voice. A voice that comes to us from the realm of madness.
Michael Shipman is paranoid schizophrenic; he suffers from hallucinations, delusions, and complex fantasies of persecution and horror. That’s bad enough. But what can he do if some of the monsters he sees turn out to be real?
Who can you trust if you can’t even trust yourself? The Hollow City is a mesmerizing journey into madness, where the greatest enemy of all is your own mind.
Michael Shipman awakens in a hospital, unable to remember the last two weeks of his life, but sure that he’s been running from someone–something. Mentally ill and clinically depressed for a large part of his twenty years of life, and most recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, Michael doesn’t know what he can trust since he sees blurry, faceless men around him. Another part of his illness is a deep distrust of all electronics, and even the magnetic field from a cell phone instantly causes an intense migraine attack when one rings near him. But convincing his doctors that these so called delusions are real and not the symptoms of a brain that doesn’t fire normally isn’t easy, and when there’s a serial killer who is targeting the members of a cult that were responsible for kidnapping Michael’s mother and murdering her in order to steal Michael when he was still in her womb, he is locked away inside a mental institution.
Given course after course of drugs that are meant to treat is schizophrenia–with varying degrees of success–Michael finds that not all of his hallucinations are fake. But how does he decide which ones are real, and more importantly, who can he actually trust? Is he the Red Line Killer that’s on the loose, cutting away people’s faces? Are there really faceless men monitoring him through televisions and cell phones, trying to get to him? Are all the people trying to help him get better real?
The Hollow City is a great study in just how unreliable a narrator can be. When your narrator is the main character, who is not only mentally ill but also very narcissistic, a lot of the picture is missing. But it works in this book. I give this one a four out of five, mainly because the first 100 pages where Michael is in the mental institution are a bit slow. Once he busts out and goes on the run, all hell breaks loose and the body count starts to go up, and then the story goes at a break neck pace until the end. The last fourth of the book does take a turn in the science fiction direction which wasn’t really present in the first part of the book, but it’s not so glaringly out of place that it makes the ending unenjoyable.
Overall, what makes this book a fun, quick read is Dan Wells’ smooth, easy flowing prose. The plot is twisty enough that you can’t really guess what’s going to come next, thanks mostly to the unreliable main character’s first person narration.