Review: A Hollow Sky by M. Sean Coleman from Red Dog Press

Dr. Alex Ripley is back with a new case. Gripping. Tense. Slow burn to a roller-coaster ending. More thought provoking thriller writing from M. Sean Coleman.

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A Hollow Sky picks up shortly after the end of the excellent first novel (The Cuckoo Wood, see my review for that one here), with Dr. Alex Ripley feeling the after effects of that books dramatic climax. In a great call back to the opening of the first book, we are drawn in to the case of Ian Hewitt who appeared with Ripley on a TV show about faith healers. Ian is grieving for the loss of his wife Jane, who in her final days visited Megan in a little town in Wales. Megan is a child in a coma, whose mother believes has the power to heal through prayer, many people come to pray with Megan in the hopes of finding that elusive miracle cure. Ripley meets Ian again following his arrest on suspicion of having broken into Megan’s house and tampering with her equipment. The story builds from there as elements of Ian’s story start to cause concern, not least their inability to contact the one person who could corroborate some of Ian’s tale.

Some similar themes to those in The Cuckoo Wood are drawn out here, not least a distaste for those who would seek to take advantage of a person’s desperation. A great compassion shines through too, Megan’s mother Anne is portrayed as a devoted parent who is very protective of her daughter, is seeking to make up for her past and genuinely believes in her  gift and that it should be shared. It’s that belief that allows some of those around her to ingratiate themselves and take advantage. That’s where the mystery presents itself, who is in it for what? And to what extent would they go in their desire to protect what they have built?

Settings for these novels so far have been rural, with Ripley herself based in Manchester. Bringing an experience to the fore that may not be familiar to many, the wonderful sense of community that can often be found in smaller communities. As well as the range of people and views that can often be found. We have the self declared matriarchal figure of Bron, but also the skeptical café owner Owen who doesn’t quite hold with the views of the local church. There is a richness in the descriptions of such a community that hit home for those that have sent much of their lives in one. This is not a cosy midsummer murders type setup though, not a stereotypically small rural community, this feels far more real to me. And is done with such a clear fondness that it doesn’t feel forced in anyway, there is an authenticity here that demonstrates the quality of the writing.

We also start to find out more about Ripley and what drives her as the story develops, in the way of all the best crime / mystery / thriller series our lead character gets increasingly interesting as we progress. Her sense of justice is inherent in everything she does, Ripley is also genuinely concerned with truth. A fact that throws off a lot of the people she meets who have a preconceived notion of what to expect from someone who has built a career on debunking miracles. I think that’s something that many of us can relate to. The story of her husband John also builds, but I won’t say anymore on that, I risk spoilers. I will say though that I need book three.

Paced superbly, the writing sucks you in from the gut wrenching opening chapter through to the action packed roller coaster of a finale. Building up slowly though, this is a story that gives up its treasures slowly and demands that you think for yourself. Nothing is spoon fed here, not even some of the personal motivations. Although you may think you understand them early on, don’t be sucked in to assuming the obvious, you’ll thank me for it later. Despite its slow build approach, the compelling characters throughout and the quality of the writing ensures that you are never bored. This is the perfect story to sink in to on a long journey or a winters Sunday afternoon in your favorite cosy chair.

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