Mark N. Drake
It’s May, 1922 and six months after Jack Glennison first experienced unearthly goings-on on the island of Darkisle, he is called back to investigate a missing boy, Daniel Penby. As he begins to make discreet enquiries in Darkisle, it starts to become horribly apparent that this is not a straightforward case, again…
Here we are, back on Darkisle and, within a couple of paragraphs, immersed into another thoroughly entertaining and gripping Jack Glennison case. Those Under The Hill is the second outing for Glennison and it certainly reads as a standalone novel. However, when a series is this good, I highly recommend reading the first book, The Gathering of Shadows*.
Jack Glennison is a more than capable lead to this series and, in this second story, while still personable and engaging, he has a little more vulnerability and depth in his depiction. Drake really considered the impact of that first excursion to Darkisle, and how that would have affected his development as a main character. The measured writing and tighter plot structure of Those Under The Hill demonstrates thoughtful progression of both Glennison and the nature of Darkisle, consequently showcasing Drake’s evolution as a writer.
The Penby case has all the ingredients to draw the reader in; parents acting strangely, unnatural deaths, remote farmsteads, a few dead-ends and the ever-increasing, creeping dread that something appallingly monstrous and, supernatural, is at the heart of Daniel’s disappearance. Drake is excellent at pacing and building the tension to fever pitch before throwing the reader either off the scent, or in another direction completely, which is what happens when Glennison finally discovers who the ‘watcher’ of Slee Top is. The reader is also never really too sure quite how blameless or involved, Daniel’s parents, Peter and Alice, are.
Darkisle is atmospheric, gloomy despite the unseasonable weather, and inhabited with a cast of sullen, sinister characters who are all well-observed without veering into caricature. Drake writes with knowing confidence on the near mythical landscape of the Island and this authorly reassurance makes it immediately familiar and absorbing to the reader.
As before, there are subtle nodding references to Lovecraft but, towards the last third of the novel, I felt heavily reminded of H. G. Wells; Those Under The Hill veers more into science fiction/horror territory than before, and does not hold back, although events are kept the right side of credibility. One of the reasons that the plot does not feel too far-fetched is the balancing contrast between the action and the period setting. The early 1920s are wonderfully evoked with a wealth of understated detail that completely transports the reader to the era.
Those Under The Hill is a real treat for fans of the genre; accomplished, engrossing and excellently written. Highly recommended.
*To read my review of The Gathering of Shadows, please click here