Happy New Year everyone 🙂 After reading Sarah Pinborough’s “Torchwood: Long Time Dead” a few weeks ago, I decided to look online for other books by the author. And, to my absolute delight, I found that she’d written several horror novels… that were only published over in America during the mid-late 2000s by a publisher that went bust in 2010.
Given how this time period was something of a drought for horror publishing in general (with a few rare exceptions like Abbaddon Books’ “Tomes Of The Dead” series), given how the cover art and titles of these books reminded me a bit of the old 1970s/80s horror novels I used to find in charity shops during the early-mid 2000s and given that they were fairly cheap second-hand, I decided to get a couple of them.
And, although I’d originally planned to read Pinborough’s “Breeding Ground” (if only bcause the title was possibly a homage to this 1980s Shaun Hutson novel), I ended up choosing Pinborough’s 2008 novel “Tower Hill” instead because it didn’t seem to include any giant spiders.
So, let’s take a look at “Tower Hill”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
Set in America, the novel begins forty miles outside the sleepy Maine town of Tower Hill. A Catholic priest called Father O’Brien is driving towards the town, when he stops off at a burger restaurant in order to use the bathroom. However, someone dressed as a priest is waiting for him there. The fake priest, Jack, stabs O’Brien before taking his wallet and returning to the restaurant to see a swathe of dead bodies and his serial-killer friend Grey dousing the building with petrol. Jack and Grey make plans to meet up in Tower Hill before setting the building alight and going their separate ways.
A while later, a fresher called Steve Wharton arrives in Tower Hill ready for his first term at the idyllic town’s small university. When he arrives, he finds that he’s sharing a house with a cool woman called Angela and a slightly more shy woman called Liz, who has come from a sheltered religious background. Still, the three of them get along well and begin settling into university life.
Meanwhile, Jack poses as the town’s new priest and gets ready to use the local church for a different type of mass. Grey, on the other hand, poses as both a history professor and the head of the university’s paranormal investigation society…
One of the first things that I will say about “Tower Hill” is that it is a much better book than it initially appears to be. Seriously, don’t let the slower and more understated earlier parts of this novel put you off. This is a brilliantly creepy horror novel that is also like a really cool updated version of a classic 1980s horror novel. If you like classic horror authors like James Herbert, Shaun Hutson, Graham Masterton and maybe Stephen King, then you’ll probably enjoy “Tower Hill”. Just don’t judge it by the first 100-150 pages though.
I should probably start by talking about this novel’s horror elements, which are really creepy 🙂 This novel focuses heavily on both paranormal/religious horror and psychological horror, but also includes some well-placed moments of gory horror, claustrophobic horror, ominous horror, social horror, sexual horror, suspense, character-based horror and even a few hints of both the zombie and vampire genres too 🙂 Although this novel is probably more disturbing and unsettling than outright frightening, it is certainly a bit of a creeper.
One of the novel’s greatest horrors is the horror of conformity and this is handled absolutely brilliantly. The novel shows the “wholesome” town of Tower Hill gradually falling under an evil influence, which succeeds by cloaking itself in the guise of both old and new religions. Not only does this show how easily charisma and authority can turn good people evil, but it also adds a lot of nervous suspense in later parts of the story where only a few people remain untouched by the evil forces.
Interestingly, whilst this novel contains some amusingly cynical satire about religion, the novel is also something of a traditional “Good vs Evil” story with heavily religious undertones. This ambiguity not only keeps the novel unpredictable, but it also helps to add a surprising amount of nuance to the story – whilst still allowing the story’s conformity and religion-based scenes to remain seriously chilling.
Although the premise of “cosy small town turns evil” is nothing new in the horror genre, it is handled really well in this novel – with the story having a creeping sense of unease and claustrophobia that walks a fine line between both dystopian fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction. This, incidentally, is why you shouldn’t judge this novel by the first 100-150 pages or so. In order to show the gradual change from cosy idyll to diabolical dystopia, the early parts of this story will sometimes seem a bit saccharine, cheesy, drab or bland. This is only there to make the later parts more unsettling by contrast.
Earlier, I likened this novel to several classic 1980s horror authors and it is really cool how this novel clearly takes inspiration from them whilst also very much being it’s own thing too. It has the kind of setting that you’d expect from a Stephen King novel, the rural gloom and supernatural chills of one of James Herbert’s paranormal horror novels, the occult drama of Graham Masterton and a few hints of the apocalyptic claustrophobia and macabre spectacle of one of Shaun Hutson’s classic horror novels. Yet, as mentioned before, the novel is also it’s own thing too, with a unique atmosphere and a dramatic ending that wouldn’t look out of place in a late-night 1980s horror movie 🙂
And, yes, this novel is atmospheric 🙂 Even though the earlier parts of the story can be a bit slow and uneventful, the descriptions in these parts really help to make the town of Tower Hill feel like a very real and very old place (with perhaps a few hints of H.P Lovecraft and rural Britain too). Not only does this add extra drama to the subtle changes in the town throughout the novel, but it also means that the novel’s moments of horror have a bit of extra impact too.
In terms of the characters, this novel is also much better than it initially seems. In other words, there is actual character development in this novel. Although the “good” characters will seem a bit bland or boring at first, they gain a lot more depth as the story progresses and, by the end, are really compelling characters 🙂 In addition to this, the novel’s villains – Jack and Grey – remain chillingly fascinating throughout the story and, during the slower-paced earlier parts of the novel, really help to keep the story interesting too.
As for the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is fairly good. There’s a really good mixture between more atmospheric, descriptive narration and faster-paced “matter of fact” narration. In a lot of ways, this novel’s narration is like a slightly more informal and readable version of the narration you’d expect to see in a classic 1980s horror novel 🙂
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 320 pages in length, this story seems neither too short nor too long. The novel’s pacing also has a fairly good progression, with the story gradually becoming faster, more dramatic, atmospheric, suspenseful, creepy and compelling as it progresses. Even so, as mentioned earlier, this means that the earlier parts of the story might seem a bit slow, uneventful and/or bland at times. Still, these early parts are there to make the later parts of the story more compelling by contrast.
All in all, this is a really cool 1980s-influenced horror novel from the late 2000s 🙂 It’s chilling, atmospheric and compelling. Yes, it takes a while for the story to really become interesting, but it is well worth the wait 🙂 If you like classic ’80s horror authors like James Herbert, Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, Graham Masterton etc.. then this novel is well worth checking out 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.