“Just because your’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”
The Hollow City by Dan Wells brings that to life by following Michael Shipman, a paranoid schizophrenic who comes to discover that not all the hallucinations he sees are false. There are real things out there – full of horror and when it comes down to it, he might be the only one who can do anything about it.
Confined to a mental hospital for much of the story, Michael struggles to come to terms with his illness and the strange happenings about him. He has little support from his family – his father having for all purposes abandoned him and his mother having been murdered by a cult shortly after his birth. Even his personal psychiatrist, Dr. Vanek, rarely believes in him and provides little support.
Meanwhile, there is a murderer on the loose and all signs point to Michael as being the culprit. He protests his innocence but even he begins to believe he might not be telling the truth. He finds himself at the center of a conspiracy that just fuels his illness even more. Half the time, Michael’s uncertain if he’s telling the truth and just when he thinks he has things figured out, something happens to shake it all loose again.
The Hollow City is a thrilling ride with a character that gives ‘unreliable narrator’ a whole new twist. The story is told from Michael’s point of view. Wells has masterfully engrossed us in the mind of a diseased man, forcing us (and Michael) to constantly ask what is real and what is not, all while putting a human face on schizophrenia. The ending … well, what can I say? It wasn’t what I was expecting. Satisfying yet at the same time, sad. I’ve struggled to think of another way for it to have concluded though.
A fast read, you can plow through The Hollow City in a weekend. It’s gripping and just doesn’t let go. While it is a psychological thriller, there are elements of science fiction that creep in during the second half. Nonetheless, the book has found a place as one of my favorites of the year.
As a side note – Dan Wells rose to fame with the John Cleaver novels, a trilogy about a young man with the potential to become a serial killer who desperately wants to avoid it at all costs. I Am Not A Serial Killer and its sequels, Mr. Monster and I Don’t Want To Kill You, are excellent reads that proved Wells knows how to get inside the mind of the disturbed. If you get a chance, grab them. They’re fast reads plus the titles alone will get you a little private space at the local coffee shop. Try it on the plane too!
Author: Dan Wells