In his debut novel, I Am Not A Serial Killer (review), he takes on a protagonist who's a teenage sociopath. In The Hollow City [US] [UK], his protagonist is a schizophrenic mental patient. Both get you into their heads and both make you feel like you understand people a little bit better. Both are compulsively readable and impossible to put down.
I gotta hand it to Wells, that's quite a way to start a writing career.
The Hollow City is like Memento goes to the nuthouse. Not that it's told in a similar format, such as the whole starting at the end and ending at the beginning, but because your narrator is that unreliable. You really want to trust Michael Shipman, you want to believe that the "Faceless" men are chasing him, that all electronic devices are sending out signals and reporting on him (not just cell phones, but TV's and watches too), that the people he's talking to are all more than figments of his imagination.
But the facts are all there. Not only is he actually in a mental institution where all the doctors have him pegged as a schizophrenic, but he's got the typical narcissism that puts such a person at the center of every conspiracy that ever existed. Wells has obviously done a lot of research here, but it's not bogged down in any technical jargon.
And yet you can't help but think he might have something, he might be telling the truth about everything. What if he is? And then we find out that something or someone else Michael's seeing isn't real (or is it?). That wouldn't be annoying if I did that after every sentence would it?
The Hollow City is quite the trip.
Adding to the conspiracy and schizophrenia we see in Michael we are introduced to a mystery regarding a killer that's on the loose. In fact, the prologue takes us to one of a string of murders by one known as the Red Line Killer who's been not only killing people, but mutilating their faces. With no other leads, you begin to see why the police might be looking to Michael, a schizophrenic who's running away from "Faceless" men.
The jury's still out on the ending, though. I'm not sure whether I
thought it was great or just so so. I liked it well enough, I think I
just had too many other possibilities in my head that I was let down a
bit. It's definitely fitting and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Given what happens at the end, it's actually a pretty cool idea ... and I'll stop there.
The Hollow City is pegged as science fiction, at least it's being marketed as such, but that only plays a minor part. I'm actually surprised they aren't marketing it as more mainstream, since most in the publishing biz try to distance themselves from the anathema that is SFF. So, cheers to Tor I guess. :)
I won't go into anymore detail for fear of ruining anything, I've done enough I'm sure. Let's just say that you should read The Hollow City if only to see this unique perspective, but also to get an incredibly unique experience. And once you're reading it, you won't be able to stop, I mean, it's Dan Wells.
4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended!) A copy of this book was provided by the publisher