Hold the Dark by Frank Tuttle – review

Rating: 10/10 ★★★★★★★★★★ 
Title: Hold the Dark
Author: Frank Tuttle
Genre: Fantasy/horror
URL: Samhain Publishing
Price: US $4.50
Other Information/warnings: Gore, violence
Summary [from the publisher]:
Demons in a feeding frenzy drive the world-weary Markhat to the brink…

A Markhat story.

Quiet, hard-working seamstresses aren’t the kind that normally go missing, even in a tough town like Rannit. Martha Hoobin’s disappearance, though, quickly draws Markhat into a deadly struggle between a halfdead blood cult and the infamous sorcerer known only as the Corpsemaster.

A powerful magical artifact may be both his only hope of survival—and the source of his own inescapable damnation.

Markat’s search leads him to the one thing that’s been missing in his life. But even love’s awesome power may not save him from the darkness that’s been unleashed inside his own soul.

My review:

How can you possibly hate a story with this warning: “This gritty, hard-boiled fantasy detective novel contains mild romance and interludes of suggestive hand-holding.”? Or the dedication reads “Hold the Dark is dedicated to the brave men and women of the restaurant industry, who bring me quesadillas and salsa, whether I deserve them or not.” That whimsical humour is characteristic of the Markhat series, but be warned – though there’s much that is charming and witty in this, the longest of the series so far, Hold the Dark is a bona fide horror story which had me biting my nails and moaning ‘Oh no!’ more than once.

The Pratchett-esque echoes remain, but this, in my opinion, is where Tuttle really makes the Markhat universe his own. He introduced all the elements before – the strange world of Rannit where a strict curfew is all that keeps the human, living residents of the town from being a meal for the citizens of the night, the undead who roam the streets looking for prey. Woe betide anyone who misses curfew, because they’re fair game, and those who fall are cremated with speed in the morning, to save them from a fate literally worse than death. Tuttle had also set up the weary, cynical battered hero, Finder Markhat, and his irritatingly psychic enabler, Mama Hog. In this story, though, Mama Hog’s powers are blunted, and it’s up to Markhat to find a series of missing girls before they’re served up in a gruesome banquet.

There’s a new element too. Markhat’s in love – but this being the kind of story it is, you shouldn’t expect the course of his tender little romance to go smoothly. He’s forced to make unlikely alliances and dangerous friendships to save the day, the girls, and himself.

The writing is splendid. No other word will do. Right from the start, it has the richness of epic poetry:

Rain fell like an ocean upended. A frigid ice-rimed polar ocean, full of ghostly white whales and blue-veined icebergs; I pulled my raincoat tight at my neck and put my chin down on my chest and offered up a pair of unkind words to the cold gushing sky.

The descriptions swoop from the mundane to the horrifying with deceptive grace and verve, with a sharp eye for the vivid detail, the telling marks of class and background. I had a particular fondness for the Hoobins and their home, but also the world of the Velvet – the local house of negotiable affection – and even the Churches and the houses of the Undead had a creepy charm all their own. His monsters are gratifyingly horrible and genuinely scary, his good men are solidly honest, and though the blossoming romance is only lightly sketched, it felt real, and touching, so that we worry and grieve along with Markhat when things go very badly wrong indeed. There’s a mystery woven in amongst the horror, cleverly done, and the tension wracks up nicely to a truly shattering conclusion.

I have no criticisms to offer. If you want a good fantasy read, and don’t mind horror, I can’t imagine anyone not liking this. The author says there’s an even longer Markhat novel coming out soon. I really can’t wait. Highly recommended – this is a true classic.

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