Originally published in 2001 by Razorblade Press, Hush was short-listed for the August Derleth Award for Best Novel at the British Fantasy Awards. It’s been twelve years since it was released to critical acclaim, and has now been re-released in digital format through BadPress.
Jacob Naylor is one angry puppy; a man who spends the majority of his time at animal-rights protests or, as a consequence of demonstrating against the callous corporations responsible, frequenting prison cells. On the morning of an important demo, his girlfriend, Maria, decides enough is enough and leaves him. Unperturbed – though slightly enraged by her decision – Jacob continues with his equally-passionate friends to the protest.
Later that night, the group break into the Hellier Labs, hoping to find something incriminating, or otherwise just turn the place over. When they stumble upon a caged and shackled naked girl, though, things start to go awry almost immediately. Jacob’s best friend, Morris, ends up trapped in the lab, and Jacob passes out, only to regain consciousness back at the guest house with no idea of how things turned out. He does, however, possess a stolen disk from the labs, and it is this plot-device which pushes things nicely forward.
The disk contains a journal; descriptions of animal-mutilations and tentacled monsters dating back to 1984. Maria reluctantly involves herself on the proviso that Jacob notifies the police of the potential kidnap victim at the labs. Once again, things don’t go as planned, and Jacob finds himself knee-deep in conspiracies, not to mention the shade-wearing, Mercedes-driving group of miscreants intent on catching up with him.
When they do, everything becomes clear. Jacob’s forgotten past is finally revealed. It transpires that he was once Hush, a member of The Order, a government agency tasked with observing and protecting the human race at all costs. His past, including Maria, were all fabricated, but now The Order need him back as who he once was, for something big is coming, and only he can prevent the End Of Days.
Hush is almost impossible to classify. There are elements of horror, fantasy, science-fiction, and adventure, and the amalgamation of these genres make for a very entertaining read. Jacob’s uncontrollable rage and the subsequent tension between Maria and himself are the basis for the first quarter of the book, and it’s a very welcome introduction to the characters. Why does she help him if she doesn’t love him? Can he somehow come out on top in the battle against his personal demons and win her back? The awkwardness between them is played out to near-perfection, and Jacob’s initial denial turning to resignation is something all, or most, of us are familiar with.
With the introduction of The Order, comprising primarily of Battalion, Fade, and the tall, androgynous redhead known as Vanguard, Lebbon and Williams have the formula for some very interesting dialogue. Hush’s past is unpicked neatly through a combination of dream-sequences and a very nice scar-swapping scene reminiscent of the one from Jaws. It is during this scene that the Lovecraftian elements appear. A scar here caused by an Elder, a wound there from a particularly nasty Shoggoth attack. Fans of Lovecraft’s Mythos will no doubt be salivating at the prospect of a showdown with the great Cthulhu, and though it never happens, the final battle is equally as exciting.
Another nice touch is the relationship between Battalion and Hush. The sheer intensity of their love for one another is palpable whenever they’re together, and the pages practically sizzle as a result. You would do well to find such passionate characters anywhere else, which is not to say they are overbearingly lovey-dovey. One sex-scene between them is described, with a stroke of genius, as half-love, half-combat. That pretty much sums up their relationship without delving too deeply into their past.
Lebbon and Williams never let the reader get the upper-hand, which is admirable with such a sprawling plot. When you think you have everything figured out and tied up nicely with a pretty, purple bow on top, these authors pitch another curve-ball. It’s a lesson on suspense-building, a masterclass on how to cheat the reader without pissing them off, and they pull it off with considerable skill.
Hush is a wonderful tale of paranoia and discovery, an action-packed foray into the ultimate battle of Good vs Evil on a grand scale. Masterfully told, and heaving with well-developed characters that practically leap from the page, it’s easy to see why this was short-listed for such a prestigious award all those years ago. The only outstanding mystery is how it failed to win.
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