Through A Glass, Darkly by Bill Hussey

Everything I'd read about Through A Glass, Darkly, the 2008 debut novel of Bill Hussey, suggested that I would love it. A horror novel set in an isolated, insular Fenland village. It features a sinister villain who materialises now and again to terrorise children, and his name is Elijah Mendicant, or the Crowman. The Crowman. Yes. Like the creepy one in the black hat from Worzel Gummidge. Seriously, anyone who knows me well would imagine this book to be tailored exclusively to my horror needs.



So it's a shame, then, that I just didn't enjoy it that much. I really, really wanted to like Through A Glass, Darkly, but ultimately the writing was too undisciplined, the horror at times just too overblown, the editing nowhere tight enough. And most importantly, when it came to the hero, I just didn't care.

It would be unfair if I didn't point out that there is still a great deal to like about this book. For a start, it's crammed with brilliant ideas for horror novels - it's just that they've all been squashed into one book, which means that while there are some fine feats of macabre imagination in the story that I very much appreciated, it lacks cohesion as a narrative and feels a little overstuffed, a little confused. Mendicant himself is, quite genuinely, extremely creepy, and his early appearances made me shiver in the best of ways: Hussey is more than capable of writing skin-crawlingly eerie, unsettling scenes, which for me makes it a pity that he relies on gore and gross-out sadism far too often. I like a bit of gore as much as the next girl, but these scenes rarely showcase Bill Hussey's talent - and he does have plenty of talent - to its best advantage, and the atmosphere tends to be lost. There are also some descriptions of outlandish visuals that simply don't work for me; while impressive in terms of the author's vision, I felt at times as if I were reading visual directions from a screenplay, and became rather detached from the action.

The novel's protagonist is ostensibly troubled police officer Jack Trent, fighting a supernatural affliction all of his own while simultaneously trying to prevent Mendicant, a serially reincarnated manifestation of evil, from targeting Jamie, Jack's former girlfriend's son. However, large chunks of the story are told by other people, a device I found to be successful partly because the differing points of view provided variety and colour and helped the different plot strands knit cleverly together, but partly (and unfortunately) because I simply found the other characters far more interesting than tortured, heroic, saintly Jack. As well as being a little too-good-to-be-true, or more to the point too-good-to-be-interesting, Jack's role in the plot involves a police investigation of a missing person case and two child murders: I never found this part of the story especially convincing. Like a film in which the character actors steal the show from a bland leading man, Through A Glass, Darkly is most fun when it's left to the lesser characters to provide the action, and Hussey has done a fine job of making them three-dimensional. I could happily have read the story of Catholic priest Asher Brody and his long-term battle with Mendicant on its own.

There's plenty of excellent stuff in Through A Glass, Darkly, but as a whole, I felt it needed a damn good edit. It's almost as if there are two or three novels in there competing for attention at times, which made it an ultimately unsatisfying read for me. I would still keep an eye out for Bill Hussey's work - this was his first novel, after all - but in the meantime, my search for a British horror novel that manages to be terrifying and tautly-plotted yet beautifully and intelligently written throughout goes on.

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