Paperback, 368 pages, $7.99 (review based on advanced reading copy)
Review by Sheila Merritt
The villains of horror are the characters that are most remembered. Think Dracula, Hannibal Lecter, Mr. Hyde. In Tower Hill, it is the bad guys that are the best delineated, and these are really bad guys. Gray and Jack are friends who have a history of violence. They work as a team; Jack the more sensible of the two. Gray delights in torture and murder, and tends to be on the laissez-faire side when confronted with the risks his pleasures involve. Together, this lethal duo descends upon the picturesque college town of Tower Hill to fulfill their destiny and create mayhem and destruction in their wake.
Tower Hill is a town that prides itself on its picture pretty image. The locals are accustomed to the influx of students that happens each year, but in general, the long time inhabitants of the town don’t mingle with the college kids. It is therefore necessary that Jack and Gray split their duties in corrupting the town. Jack poses as the new priest at the church (after chillingly dispatching, and then assuming the identity of, the expected man of the cloth.) Handsome and charismatic Gray beguiles the students in the guise of professor. He also heads a discussion group dealing with the arcane and supernatural. So, the fellows in their allotted personas, deal with different kinds of spirituality. One takes on organized religion; the other messes with the minds of the students interested in the occult.
Infused with references to the Old Testament, and possessing the sensibility of a Da Vinci Code paranoia, Sarah Pinborough’s novel is a good read. The author is psychologically savvy; she comprehends thought processes that occur when a character is confronted with eerie and unsettling situations: “There was something horrible about the energy an unexpected death could create. Maybe it was natural; maybe it was just a Thank you, Lord, for making it her and not me reflex, but it still left a bad taste in her mouth.”
Sarah Pinborough has recently made the British Fantasy 2008 shortlist nominations in the best novel category. That honor is for her book The Taken. Her debut novel, Burial Ground, was recommended by the same organization in the category of best first novel. In Tower Hill, Pinborough shifts the setting from England, where her previous novels took place, to the U.S.A. Horror is universal, and this particular town could easily exist in either of those locations. It is a place, Pinborough writes, where: “A tumor has started to grow in its bowels but the early symptoms are hard to spot and easy to ignore.” The internal decay of the town will linger and disturb long after closing the book of Tower Hill.