Desper Hollow was my introduction to Elizabeth Massie’s stories. Oh, I’d come across her name every now and then over the years, knew that she was a fiction author and had written several books, but that was about the limit of my knowledge. Then I had the chance to get my hands on a copy of Desper Hollow and I knew, I just knew I had to read the book. The cover art caught my attention right off and it wasn’t long before I cracked the novel open and started reading.
The story largely revolves around the Mustard Clan, a large tight-knit family living up in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. At the heart of the Mustard family is the matriarch, Granny Mustard, and it’s Granny who sets off a chain of events that rock the land and the community around her. You see, Granny has a secret, an age-old secret that has her rolling the dice on an attempt to cheat death. Of course, Desper Hollow is a horror tale, and like all good horror tales, you know that Granny’s hubris is not going to lead anywhere good.
I loved the book. Massie is a gifted writer who leads the reader with consummate skill into the hearts and minds of the many characters encountered in the tale. There’s Kathy Shaw, who has moved to the coast but returns to Desper Hollow to help her father cope with tragedy. There’s Jenkie Mustard, who knows firsthand the horror that Granny Mustard has unleashed, and who makes a vain attempt to control it for her own purposes. There’s Jack Carroll, who travels to Desper Hollow to begin filming a new reality show about the lives of mountain folk, and who comes face to face with terror. Massie takes these characters and others and makes us care about them, gets us invested in their lives and thoughts and actions and has us feverishly turning the pages of the novel to see what’s going to come of all of them. She makes us care even about Jenkie Mustard, who in many ways is a monster herself.
This is, of course, a zombie tale. One look at the cover art makes that very plain. Yet, this is not a story about a zombie apocalypse. Desper Hollow is a smaller tale that touches the lives of but a few people who encounter something monstrous in a backwoods Appalachian community.
The author does a great job of introducing all of the characters, slowly unfolding their own personal stories and then weaving them all together into one hell of a tale. A tale that, once the stage is set, begins picking up speed until it rockets along at a breakneck pace. I read the novel over the course of a few days, but when I got to the last third or so, I finished it in two to three hours. So, fair warning; make sure you’ve set aside a chunk of time, because there will be a point where you’re not going to want to put down the book. The whole world could crumble into dust around you and it won’t matter, you’re going to have to get to the end of this tale.
I strongly recommend Desper Hollow. Fans of dark fiction will doubtlessly love this story, even if not necessarily a fan of zombie tales. Zombies are far from my first love when it comes to scary stories, but I highly enjoyed this tale, and I’ll read it again. If the author were ever to revisit Desper Hollow and the people who live there in a new book, I would definitely get a copy and crack it open.
One last note: Desper Hollow is a sequel of sorts. Granny Mustard’s tale actually begins in a short story titled When Granny Comes Marchin’ Home Again. That story appears in the anthology, Appalachian Undead, put out by Apex Book Company. It’s not necessary to read that story first, but it does give a deeper glimpse into the life of Granny Mustard, and if you enjoy Desper Hollow, you’ll no doubt want to read this short prequel to the novel.
Disclaimer: I was provided an electronic copy of Desper Hollow by Apex Book Company in exchange for an honest review. I received no money or any other form of compensation, and the opinions stated in this review are my own.