William Giraldi’s brutal and lyrical Hold The Dark is an expedition into darkness at the very edge of civilization.
I wouldn’t pet the blurb, if I were you:
At the start of another pitiless winter, the wolves have come for the children of Keelut. Three children have been taken from this isolated Alaskan village, including the six-year-old boy of Medora and Vernon Slone. Stumbled by grief and seeking consolation, Medora contacts nature writer and wolf expert Russell Core. Sixty years old, ailing in both body and spirit, and estranged from his daughter and wife, Core arrives in Keelut to investigate the killings.
Immersing himself in this settlement at the end of the world, he discovers the horrifying darkness at the heart of Medora Slone and learns of an unholy truth harboured by this village. When Vernon Slone returns from a desert war to discover his son dead and his wife missing, he begins a methodical pursuit across this frozen landscape. Aided by his boyhood companion, the taciturn and deadly Cheeon, and pursued by the stalwart detective Donald Marium, Slone is without mercy, cutting a bloody swath through the wilderness of his homeland.
As Russell Core attempts to rescue Medora from her husband s vengeance, he comes face to face with an unspeakable secret at the furthermost reaches of American soil a secret about the unkillable bonds of family, and the untamed animal in the soul of every human being.
It’s a slim book, but Hold The Dark is muscular and feral — every page squirms with energy, theme and startling images.
It’s a crime novel, deffo. You’ve got a psychopath on the run and shoot-outs and a body count, but there’s a Wicker Man eeriness to it, which takes the reader to some mystic, primeval place. Hold The Dark is about myth and story telling and about the bloody rage and violence that us townies have long suppressed, and which makes us powerless in the face of instinctive natural forces which have absolutely no empathy for us.
Giraldi’s Alaskan landscape is implacable, alien and ruthless — his descriptions of the place, and of the people who live there, are compelling and terrifying — and it will kill you the first chance it gets. The normal rules of civilization have no place there.
You sense that Giraldi isn’t a crime writer by instinct, he’s got too many things going on in his head, but the set-pieces are bone-chilling. At one point, a guy starts firing a Minigun, a Gatling-style weapon which fires so many rounds per second that it has to be bolted to the floor, causing carnage to the attending police and their squad cars.
Hold The Dark is a bleak and fascinating book, which manages to be both stark and theatrical. Its images, of animal masks and savage slaughter, stay in your head a long time after you’ve read it. But like the magnificent and deadly pack of wolves who prowl the wilderness outside of Keelut, the book’s meaning and intentions remain elusive, right up to the climax which flips on its head your sense of what you’ve been reading.
Many thanks to No Exit for the review copy. I’m over the moon to say that William Giraldi gives us the intel on Hold The Dark later in the week. It’s an absolutely fascinating interview — Giraldi loves his words — so don’t miss it!