The Hollows is once again a poor choice for someone trying to keep a secret in this latest thriller from best-selling author Unger (Heartbroken, 2012, etc.).
This time, it’s Sacred Heart College in the upstate New York town that attracts an unhappy outsider seeking refuge. Lana Granger remains haunted by her mother’s murder; her father, still on death row for the crime, keeps trying to make contact with her. You might wonder, given Lana’s memories of her “appalling” childhood behavior and its role in the violent dysfunction of her parents’ marriage, why she would take a job baby sitting for 11-year-old Luke, who attends a nearby school for disturbed kids and is exactly the sort of manipulative, “callous-unemotional” deemed most likely to become a full-blown psychopath by experts like Lana’s psychology professor, Langdon Hewes. But Lana feels a strange bond with Luke, and Unger skillfully ratchets up the tension as we begin to realize the boy knows far more about Lana’s past than he should, while diary entries interspersed with the main narrative document horrifying behavior by a malicious child we assume is Luke. It soon becomes clear that neither Lana nor the diary entries are what they seem, and it seems frighteningly likely that our troubled protagonist had something to do with her best friend Beck’s disappearance. But Unger pulls off a bravura feat of misdirection with Lana’s guilty secret and a terrific aha! moment with the revelation of the first of several villains, each fingered with clues carefully planted throughout the text. The book’s emotional logic isn’t as impeccable as its plotting: We’re asked to believe that one dangerously unstable child can grow up and learn to love with the help of therapy and lots of meds, while another with virtually identical issues will always be a monster. Few readers will dwell on this inconsistency as they savor the pleasure of being guided by Unger’s sure hand along a deliciously twisted narrative path.
Another scary winner from an accomplished pro.