The first part of a feature on the work of Andrew Hook that originally appeared in Black Static #57:-
WHO I AM AND WHAT I’M DOING HERE: ANDREW HOOK
Andrew Hook has been a regular on the independent press scene for many years, both as writer and publisher. His work gleefully careens all over the literary spectrum, with horror an important string to his bow, as witness seven stories and counting in the pages of Black Static.
Hook’s 2015 release CHURCH OF WIRE (Telos Publishing pb, 296pp, £12.99) is the second novel to feature private eye Mordent, following on from 2014’s The Immortalists, and this time around Mordent has two cases on the go. Her husband has hired him to locate missing wife Tessa Maloney, a case that metamorphoses into a murder inquiry when her dead body turns up, the victim of a serial killer. And aloof Isabelle Silk asks him to look into the background of Tony Runcorn, a man with whom she has business dealings, though Mordent suspects that his client is holding something back. As he pursues various lines of enquiry, Mordent finds that both cases lead back to the Church of Wire, a Scientology like cult that finds truth in dreams, or something like that. Bar pick up Jessica is a member in good standing and happy to introduce Mordent to the fold, which is when things start to get really complicated. Among those complications is the Frame, a thug who is larger than life and twice as ugly.
I have some reservations about the book. For starters, the Prologue which presents a scene from later in the novel, seemed to serve no useful purpose, and required an unappealing degree of artifice to cover over the gaps when we reach that point in the story; while I guess some might see Hook’s method as clever, I thought it simply clumsy. Most of my problems were to do with the plot. As Mordent observes, Isabelle Silk holds back information that would have expedited his case a lot, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by Hook’s reason for her doing so – it seemed like a convenient way to draw the story out, but other than word count didn’t add anything much of value. Similarly I wasn’t convinced by the money laundering angle incorporated into the plot – the term is bandied about with no explanation as to how it would work in context, and although I don’t say it’s impossible, from my own reading on the subject I don’t see how it would play out in this scenario. Nor is the character of Tony Runcorn, with his rundown house and poor dress sense, really that convincing as a money launderer, not even as a front man. Hook seems to want him to be both white collar crook and mob lowlife at the same time, and it’s an uncomfortable fit.
On the plus side Mordent is as much fun as in the character’s previous outings, an anti-hero whose most redeeming features are that he isn’t as corrupt or humourless as the people who he takes down. With his habit of visiting a dominatrix to feed his bubble wrap fetish, his willingness to use and abuse women in general, combined with the various bullying and abusive tactics he uses to get the information he needs, Mordent is a seriously fucked up individual. While he does have a sense of justice and shows compassion at least to the extent of feeling bad about many of the things he does, Mordent is refreshingly different from most of the PIs you read about, even those who are somewhat less whiter than white, thanks to the baggage that he brings with him. Mordent’s spiritual ancestor Philip Marlowe might very well have been a man of integrity and honour, a chivalrous knight of sorts, but in Hook’s creation we have a far meaner man to walk those mean streets.
And, my reservations aside, this is an engaging plot, one that perhaps hinges a little too much on coincidence, but engrossing all the same, with an unusual twist on the serial killer template, Hook taking a brave step in the latter regard at the novel’s end, which I thoroughly applauded. Also woven into the text are some fascinating and offbeat ideas, with Mordent’s conjectures about the nature of criminality and related matters, casting a jaundiced eye over the profession in which he is engaged, and the theoretical structure that Hook erects to supports the doctrines of the Church of Wire all of immense appeal. Finally what makes the book work so well is the prose, with the author getting a solid handle on noir phrasing, so that each descriptive flourish is an absurd and delightful slap in the face to reader expectations. Overall, reservations aside, I found much to commend Church of Wire, and look forward to seeing more adventures of the PI with the bubble wrap fetish.
We cross the genre divide into science fiction for THE GREENS (Snowbooks pb, 156pp, £4.99), a recent release in the publisher’s novella range. Our starting point is the 12th century legend of the green children of Woolpit, a village in Suffolk. Two children with green skin, a brother and sister, appeared in Woolpit claiming to have come from St Martin’s Land, a world beneath the ground. In the opening section of this novella, Hook outlines the arrival of the children, with the girl’s acceptance into the community. Skip forward to the present day and Southwold on the Suffolk coast, where OCD sufferer Julia performs endless rituals in the belief that doing so will keep her family safe. But other women are performing similar rituals and there is a common link back to the Woolpit children. When one of Julia’s daughters is abducted the stage is set for a trip to the Arctic in search of an entrance to the Hollow World, courtesy of Norwegian businessman Wilhelm, who has his own reasons for helping Julia and her husband Richard.
Hook covers a lot of territory in this short novella. He provides us with a novel reason for OCD, or at least that suffered by some people. He unloads a truckload of fascinating details about the Hollow Earth and related theories, along the way providing structural underpinning for the more fantastical aspects of his story. He brings in the bog standard fantasy device of warring factions of an alien race, giving it an original spin and doffing his hat in the direction of David Icke. He lays out the possibilities of genealogical research, as an aside. And he ties it all in with the legend of the green children of Woolpit.
What makes the book special though is the attention to detail shown in drawing his characters, with the strained relationship between Julia and Richard coming over as completely convincing, two people who undoubtedly love each other, but for whom the flames of passion have dimmed somewhat and who are having doubts about the direction their lives are going in. This relationship is mirrored in that between Wilhelm and his partner Megan (another OCD sufferer), who still care for each other even though the passion has gone out of their relationship and their paths have diverged. What elevates the characters is their concern for the children, but Hook also questions if that alone is enough to save them. Wilhelm is tempted to betray everyone simply so that he can have a place of importance in the New World Order that one faction plan to put in place. Richard’s devotion to his family is tested to the extreme. And for all of them – men, women, and children – there is s terrible fate in store, one which most readers won’t see coming at all. While the story might be science fiction in its methods, what ultimately happens is pure horror story, bleak enough to satisfy the most jaded appetite.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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