The Loney is both the title of this ultimately terrifying debut novel from British author Andrew Michael Hurley and its main setting, a bleak, misty stretch of British coastline raked by treacherous tides. “The tides could come in quicker than a horse could run.… Opportunist cocklepickers, ignorant of what they were dealing with, drove their trucks onto the sands at low tide and washed up weeks later with green faces and skin like lint.”
The Loney is narrated by a man named Smith, whose Christian name we never learn but whose family’s Christianity plays a crucial role in his story. When Smith hears on the news that a flood has exposed the remains of a long-dead baby in the Loney, he says, “I suppose I always knew that what had happened there wouldn’t stay hidden forever, no matter how much I wanted it to.” He and his brother Hanny, it’s clear, have some connection to that long-ago tragedy.
What ensues is a flashback, one that occupies most of the book, to Smith’s youth and an Easter pilgrimage taken by his London-dwelling family and a number of other Catholics to a shrine in the Loney. It turns out that Hanny was mute as a child, and the brothers’ parents—in particular their extremely devout mother—hoped the trip would miraculously get him talking. But nothing goes quite as planned. The group’s minibus breaks down close to their destination; their new priest—whose predecessor passed away under mysterious circumstances—is disappointingly unsevere; and the behavior of the local residents, at first helpful (if a bit taciturn), gradually curdles into something distinctly more sinister.
Unlike the Loney, this vibrantly written slow-burn tale would not come close to overtaking a horse. Even at midpoint, the reader is left to wonder if the book is a horror story or a drama. But fright fans can relax—or, rather, they can’t. Hurley’s debut contains dark, unexpected depths, which only really reveal themselves long after his evocative prose has led you far from shore. B+
MEMORABLE LINES “I often thought there was too much time there. That the place was sick with it. Haunted by it. Time didn’t leak away as it should.”