Unger returns to The Hollows in this novel, resurrecting familiar characters Jones Cooper, his psychologist wife, Maggie, psychic Eloise Montgomery, and a few others. No longer in THPD, Jones is at loose ends, haunted by unresolved issues with his deceased mother but volunteering as the neighborhood go-to guy, dog-walker, errand-runner - any odds jobs neighbors need tended.
Recently hired by a local woman to locate her husband’s ex-wife, who seems to have disappeared without a trace since her son came for a visit with his dad, the germ of a second career is born. A simple location search takes on more ominous tones as the client’s husband’s past yields a troubling pattern that may portend tragedy for the family. When psychic Eloise Montgomery comes to his door reporting visions of Cooper’s attempt to save a drowning person at great personal risk, he is in no mood to accept her predictions at face value: “The dead have no regard for us whatsoever, so we must protect ourselves.”
Newcomer Bethany Graves seeks a more peaceful clime in The Hollows post-divorce, but her transplanted teen, Willow, has not adapted as well, seeking out unsavory friends and skipping school in favor of roaming the woods with her new best friend, who encourages Willow’s rebellious behavior. Willow stumbles upon the hulking Michael Holt in her wanderings, a man who seems single-mindedly digging a grave. The distraught man is looking for answers, finally, to the disappearance one terrible night during his youth - the night beautiful Marla went away, never to be heard from again. Convinced that his father had a critical part in the drama, Michael has returned since the elderly man’s death to a house filled with the filth of years, old memories lurking beneath the detritus of the past. Positive he will now learn what really happened to his mother, Michael haunts the woods and the warren of tunnels, underground passages beneath the earth where he is, for a time, safe and quiet, life at a tolerable remove.
Unger cobbles disparate elements together. Eloise Montgomery and retired PI Ray Muldoon are hired by authorities to assist in the search for Marla Holt (a more successful endeavor for Montgomery thanks to her psychic skills). Michael Holt continues to unravel, slipping dangerously closer to memory. Jones Cooper fears for the safety of his client and her husband’s ex-wife. Willow is drawn near imminent danger despite her promises to Bethany to follow family rules. Only Maggie the shrink has a lower profile, though she is Willow’s current therapist.
I wish I could say Unger forges a riveting tale from the combined themes in the novel, but the fact is that The Hollows seems a plot convenience, tried and true characters easy to slot into familiar conflicts. Unger’s writing skills cannot mask the logical discrepancies of the story, and I find Montgomery’s psychic powers an all too convenient explanation for information that would otherwise be unavailable to the reader. To lend authenticity to such a character is to assume a degree of complicity with her reader, something Unger hasn’t earned by story’s end. A capable writer with an ear for dialog and believable action – usually - Unger let me down on this one, which may or may not be a problem for other readers.