The Absence by Bill Hussey
Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
A English fenland family faces the truth about their history, and what they discover is deeper and darker than they could have imagined. Bill Hussey is the new M.R.James.
Paperback: 448 pages
Published by Bloody Books (April 2009)
When Joe Nightingale drove through a storm, too fast in a show-off car, the resulting accident killed his mother. The guilt would craze any normal young man and drive his surviving family into paroxysms. Yet, worse was to come. Joe wasn’t as normal as he thought, and neither was his mother. The novel spirals into the unknown with each chapter involving the reader with clever plotting,
Bill Hussey’s debut novel, Through A Glass, Darkly, impressed me with its twisted ‘alchemy of thought’ and noir ghostly storytelling. There is a link via the mention of Crow Haven between the two books though each stands alone as noir ghost novels.
My wife has mystified me by being able to sit in a chair and her gaze seems to focus on a spot behind me. When asked, she admits to looking at and thinking about nothing. I wonder if Bill Hussey knows her. However, in The Absence, this affectation is deeper and more worrying for Richard, Joe’s father. Many years prior to her fatal accident, Richard’s wife seemed absent, as if her soul had been taken. It’s only when both Joe, his girlfriend, his brother, and Richard investigate their past and find that apparent unconnected events were probably engineered that we find out what really happened – probably.
The horror element is unusual and cleverly mysterious. There is blood and gore, scariness and shock, but not as in traditional horror or ghost stories. Hussey is a master of scene setting so when the action moves to a ruined water mill in the Fens you are there. From interesting industrial archaeology you are thrown into the impossibility of the broken wheel turning, and gears grinding. From inside the mill, but also making her appearance when and where least expected, a demonic spirit strikes terror into those who sees her. She cannot be ignored because as the Tiddy-Mun bog spirit, she is the key to the whole mystery. While in traditional Lincolnshire folklore the Tiddy-Mun is the spirit of a withered old man, who controlled the fenland floods, Hussey warps the spirit, makes it more believable in a ghastly way.
Bill Hussey’s writing style pleases as it teases. Phrases I wish I’d written include: ‘...withered bluebells teetered on the verge of the great horticultural hereafter.’ ‘The (overweight) lawyer sat, and for the first time in his life, Richard felt sympathy for a chair.’
If I had a criticism of The Absence it would be that the unravelling of the subplots came via more than one character, so repetitious slowing the action; and Wicca terms such as changelings were defined. These are minor points and for many readers irrelevant since they may welcome having plots unravelled and esoteric words clarified.
My copy of The Absence has already been snatched from my hands by an eager fan of horror woven through myths and legends. She’s in for a treat and so would any reader of Bill Hussey’s novels.