Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

Rating 9.0/10
Horror laced with sex, violence and things better left unexplained.

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The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues - though the authorities aren't sure if it's a man they should be looking for. Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family - their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel - where some suspect that biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he's a werewolf. Or perhaps it's Roman, the son of the late J. R. Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly, sexy control freak of a mother, Olivia. As the crime goes unsolved and the police seem more and more willing to believe any outlandish rumour, Peter and Roman decide the only way to save their own skins is to find the killer themselves. Along the way they uncover local secrets and designs that are much bigger than some small-town murder.

The debut novel of Brian McGreevy, Hemlock Grove, which has just been made into a TV series executively produced by horror director Eli Roth, may at first sound like a continuation of Twilight-inspired teenage angst but this moved far, far beyond this and into a vicious, creepy world where Twin Peaks has werewolves and vampires roaming the industrial ruins.

Gypsy Peter Rumancek lives on the fringes of society, with a highly sensitive sixth sense and a very clear idea of what does and does not concern him. When a girl is found brutally murdered, he and the heir of the Godfrey fortune, Roman, move beyond their differences to find out who the killer is. Mysterious and monstrous creatures abound in Hemlock Grove however, with Roman’s inscrutable and deadly mother Olivia, the psychopathic head of the White Tower medical facility Dr Pryce, an outsider werewolf hunter and the two boys’ own supernatural natures supporting a complex story of family loyalty, primordial instinct and power struggles.

I mentioned Twin Peaks before, and there is the same small town, claustrophobic feel to it, along with the central theme of a young girl’s murder fuelling suspicions, but as opposed to Twin Peaks’ working saw mill which gave it a solid working class realism, Hemlock Grove’s steel factory is a crumbling, dark relic that casts its shadow across the narrative, contrasted with the futuristic brilliance of the White Tower, within which largely unexplained experiments take place. This isn’t a supernatural tale which stands around sending longing glances and flexing shirtless muscles, Hemlock Grove goes for the jugular in a dark, twisted and horrific murder mystery where werewolves fight their way out of their human hosts, young girls are preyed upon and you have no idea who you can trust.

Peter and Roman form a solid basis for the unravelling of the story, with McGreevy’s style of writing weaving in a slight dreamlike quality of deadly shadows drifting through the hemlock. This isn’t just a story of exposing a murderer, this is an exploration of family ties, how far people will go for those who they love, lust, and the vicious side of human nature. Peter in particular is a fascinating character – wise beyond his years yet somebody who comes to realise that life involves more than just taking care of himself.

This is for those who want their horror laced with sex, violence and things better left unexplained.

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