Please note that in the following review I reveal one of this novel’s unravelling mysteries, which I enjoyed finding out and having unspoilt, although I do not reveal the denouement. So if you care about this read no further until you finish the book and then come back to see if you agree with me. However I could not write a substantive review without going on to this reveal. So big spoiler imminent! I go straight into it! Stop reading in 3….2…1…..
‘Monolith’ is a satisfying horror thriller about a homicidal building, and also features a take on the legendary Gollem, a stone monster powered by scroll that contains the bidding of the one who controls it. Which is usually to kill someone. Horribly and with no half measures.
As one of the characters says, this is not to be confused with Tolkien’s Gollum. The Gollem is a Jewish legend originating (I think) in Prague and has resonated through horror fiction and fantasy. Readers of Terry Pratchett may be familiar with his take on them. But here we return to their more malevolent roots.
It’s a satisfying reboot of this creature. It’s under the employer of billionaire Russian businessman / gangster who has built his “Crystal Tower,” a new skyscraper in London using bribes and threats to oil the wheels, and now wants to open a huge hotel complex. Planning committees, consultants and other ‘stakeholders’ raise objections and if they are able to threaten the billionaires plans, he wheels out his Gollem, which is driven from target to target in a black van, to literally crush the opposition. Or eviscerate them. Or rip their head off. Or their lower jaw. Or half of their head. Or dismember them. Or an imaginative combination of the above.
Journalists Jess and Hadley get wind off a series of gory deaths of construction workers on the site of the Crystal Tower. This leads them to the deaths of people who are opposing the construction of the Russian’s hotel complex. Will they overcome their own disbelief as to what they uncover? Will they convince the Police? Or will the gangster continue to build his evil empire?
The main pleasure of this story is the unravelling mystery. The Gollem is not revealed until roughly the halfway point. Until then we don’t know the nature of the mobile threat that is taking care of ‘difficult’ planning committee members. There’s also a back-story from 1933 that is told at intervals and it’s intriguing to find out how this will fit in with the creation of the tower, and what it will reveal the nature of the threat.
The first half of the book is about how the tower, and contains a series of gory deaths of construction workers which have the appearance of accidents, but we have seen through the eyes of the terrified victims, and know that lifts and fork-lift trucks have become seemingly possessed and crushed or impaled the unfortunate employees. We know that the walls of the building bleed, and that the building seemingly absorbs the blood of the victims. This appears to be the big bad of the book. But then it veers off into Gollem territory, and the whole monster building plot (with interesting social commentary as to the disposability of the lives of construction workers) is largely abandoned. There is some vague reference that the power that animates the Gollem animates the building but this won’t do really. To sum up, the build up of the mystery is effective, but this is not satisfactorily resolved. It’s like one of those tv mini-series where the writers change and they don’t know what to do with a story arc, so abandon it.
But there’s enough kinetic energy in Huston’s prose to keep things barrelling along, and the characters are given sufficient depth so that you care what happens to them. It’s satisfying contemporary urban horror fused with Jewish mysticism, albeit with the above regrettable central flaw. I listened to the audio-book, and reader Ben Onwukwe does a good fist with his ominous tones, and from switching genders and nationalities (male Russian to female Irish for example) with rapid aplomb.