Monday, January 09, 2017

Hell is Empty - Conrad Williams

Sent to me by the Publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Titan Books

Copyright: Conrad Williams, 2016

ISBN: 978-1783295678

Format: Paperback, 295pp

Genre: Crime

Rating: 4/5

Summed up in a few words
Claustrophobia. Dysfunction. Escape. Strength. Finality.

First Impressions
I knew Conrad Williams was saving the best (or in this case 'most brutal') for last but ouch. After finishing Hell is Empty, I was relieved that the carnage was over and done with. Joel Sorrell has been dragged through a seemingly never-ending nightmare of murder, chaos and desperation. This last instalment turns the situation on its head to a certain degree, pulling Joel back into reality and putting the fury back into his search for Sarah. Stepping into CW's criminal fiction has been an striking and stimulating experience and though I look forward to checking out his other work; I need to read some happy, positive fiction first.

Book Synopsis
Private Investigator Joel Sorrell is exhausted and drinking hard, sustained only by a hopeful yet baffling note from his estranged daughter, Sarah. An SOS from an old flame whose child has been kidnapped gives him a welcomed distraction, but the investigation raises more questions than answers. Then comes the news that his greatest enemy has escaped from prison with a score to settle. With Joel's life and the remnants of his family at stake, any chance of peace depends on the silencing of his nemesis once and for all. But an unexpected obstacle stands in his way...

My Thoughts
Joel Sorrell is a mess, recovering from another near-death event and missing his opportunity to reunite with his daughter. Sorrell goes rogue, locking himself in his apartment and drinking himself into oblivion. The individuals who care for his well being have other plans and set to drag him from his pit and back into his search for Sarah (even Ian Mawker can't stand  by and watch him rot!). Overcoming his sudden on-set agoraphobia and fear that his life is constantly in danger, Sorrell regains his fire and sets out to bring Sarah home.

An old friend comes to Sorrell for help, her son has been kidnapped and the suspect is making her jump through rings to get him back. Their journey takes them all over the country and after the friend disappears suddenly Joel believes the whole venture to be a ruse; he was right about that. The sadistic murderer who killed his wife has escaped with several of his closest inmates and they waste no time hunting Sorrell down.

Hell is Empty is my favourite instalment of this series, it contains all the elements that CW has been building up throughout the trilogy; but it ramps up the unpredictability to another level. Sorrell 'rises from the ashes' with the help of those who are invested in him, and even some who aren't but can't stand by to see his flame go out. The adrenaline factor in Hell is Empty is off the hook, with violent murderers trying to end Sorrell anyway they can, from car chases and bombings to shoot outs and close quarters combat.

Sorrell's sanity is again tested as his worst nightmare is out free roaming the world once more and Graeme Tann is not going to stop until Sorrell is in the ground. For the most part, Joel was much stronger both physically and mentally for duration of this book, though his conversations with his dead wife in his head are both strange and emotional. The character interaction and relationships in this series sets it apart from all the other British crime pieces I have read this year. CW is so focused on emotion, humanity and connection which pulls the reader in and encourages them to invest in JS and his search for Sarah.

For me personally, the biggest let down of this series is the 'villain in the shadows' aspect. It works so well in this book but I could have done with more interaction between Sorrell and those who want him dead so it can add some additional depth to the meaning behind the attacks. That said, Hell is Empty is brimming with Sorrell-vs-villain action throughout, with unhinged killers and even some professionals pursuing him with one goal; his painful death. My other complaint is that Graeme Tann is under-developed and I thought he had so much potential for a main villain, but overall he was not used enough in my opinion.

CW's has crafted such a merciless and engaging series and I certainly recommend it to any British/crime/noir fiction lovers. A solid, well organised and executed plot split across three absorbing novels. I can breath now that it is all over, the carnage has come to an end and I can go back to non-fiction and hide there for a while so I can recover. Hopefully CW dives back into the British crime genre again soon as I will be ready for some more unrelenting badassery very soon.

Pick up Hell is Empty here: Amazon UK/Amazon UK/Goodreads

About the Author: Conrad Williams is the author of nine novels, four novellas and a collection of short stories. One was the winner of the August Derleth award for Best Novel (British Fantasy Awards 2010) while The Unblemished won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007 (he beat the shortlisted Stephen King on both occasions). He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 1993, and another British Fantasy Award for Best Novella (The Scalding Rooms) in 2008.  His first crime novel, and the first Joel Sorrell thriller, Dust and Desire , was published in 2015, with Sonata of the Dead following in 2016. He lives in Manchester.

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