I sometimes catch hell for being a Southerner, whether it be for my accent or my farmer’s tan or whatever. I don’t usually mind, however sometimes it gets annoying; for example, while attending Tulane University in New Orleans back in the fall of 1992, I can’t tell you how many times people looked at my feet to see if I was wearing shoes. Ha ha, right? Not so much. I have to wonder if author Elizabeth Massie ever encountered such jibes because she hails from Virginia. If so, I’ll bet she used it as inspiration for her 2013 book DESPER HOLLOW, a zombie tale set in the backwood mountains of the state. And while you might raise an eyebrow at the premise, I assure you: this is a book you won’t want to miss.
If you are not familiar with DESPER HOLLOW, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of
It begins when hardheaded mountain matriarch Granny Mustard decides she wants to live forever, but then is killed. Her slow-witted but equally hardheaded granddaughter Jenkie decides to pick up the ball and run with it, taking Granny’s unperfected immortality moonshine recipe, a socially-inept friend named Bink, and dreams of fame and fortune to an abandoned trailer up in Desper Hollow.
But slow-witted doesn’t stand against the terrible power Granny initiated. Jenkie’s experiments only worsen the troubles with Granny’s original recipe, bringing dead critters and a few stray folks back to a state of hungry, vicious, mindless animation. Now a stash of the living dead is locked up in the back of the trailer, a howling heard that has Jenkie terrified. And Armistead, one of the red-eyed living dead, seems way too alert for comfort.
Mountain resident Kathy Shaw and Hollywood pitchman Jack Carroll, who is looking for the next hit reality show, find themselves caught up in the growing horror surrounding Desper Hollow. They can’t avoid it and must face it head on. So must Armistead, who fights the fog of his ghastly condition to discover the truth of who he really is.
Zombies never get old for me, and if an author can put them in a unique setting or scenario, even better. So I was immediately intrigued when I read the synopsis for this book. After all, although I live in Arkansas, much of the terrain could pass for Virginia and therefore the book sounded like home.
Massie writes with an easygoing style that allows the reader full immersion into the story. She easily captures the down-home essence of hillbillies and rednecks (I am a redneck, technically, therefore I am qualified to judge) and has no problems conveying mannerisms and even dialect onto the page. Her prose is crisp and clean, but focuses more on telling the story than strict grammatical discipline.
The characters in DESPER HOLLOW are both believable and well thought-out. I particularly like Jenkie, who’s dim-witted idea to follow in Granny Mustard’s footsteps ultimately leads to bad results. Readers can’t help but like her simple objectivity, while at the same time hating her for her bad attitude and gruff exterior. She is not so much an antihero as she is just a plain bitch, but it is fun to read what happens to her nonetheless.
My sole complaint about the book is that it is written in present tense. For some reason, stories written this way are difficult for me to follow. Perhaps my mind is simply overly-trained to read in past tense; I’m not sure. But this was a slight barrier for me and therefore lengthened the time it took to read the book.
That is the only issue I have with DESPER HOLLOW, and it is one that probably won’t affect many other readers at all. Regardless, I highly recommend this horror gem, and I suggest picking a copy of this book ASAP. It is available now in a variety of formats. Give it a look for sure.