Hell on high - by Michael Clark
Hell on High from Michael Clark hit a rough start when it was released earlier this year, through pirating and copyright issues – both Michael and Birgid’s Gate Press were unjustly dealt a crappy hand by Amazon – who mistakenly believed they had copyright infringed their own book, and who refused to release the book due to a pirated version already being on sale on Amazon! An absolute travesty, and frankly, a damning example of Amazon gone wrong. Michael was robbed of his own book release and had to fight to establish the right to publish his own damn book. Trust me when I say that there is very little that could have inflamed the indie horror community as much as that error – it was both unprofessional, unforgivable, and horrific. They sorted the problem out, but weeks were lost in the dispute, and I have to say it is incredible that something so bad could have happened (from Amazon’s side).
Let’s skip ahead to the actual book. I have read Michael’s Patience of a dead man (the first book of three – the other two are still waiting for me on my Kindle thanks to the collected edition), and like Michael’s voice, I found that book very easy to read. For Hell on High, Michael chose to go the path of Short-short chapters – some chapters in here are a paragraph long. This is emulating Patterson, it’s something I actually don’t like at all – to the point where I refuse to read Patterson anymore. With horror, I get that it’s to up the tension and provide multiple hooks from chapter to chapter, something Beverley Lee uses to effect in her books.
I hate to say it, but here, it was annoying. Regardless of the content of the chapters, it was like taking a commercial break after a snippet of the story. The insistence on chapter breaks with the sole intent of heightening tension did the opposite for me, I had to take repeated breaks from the book through irritation that the flow of the story was consistently broken. Any tension and “hook” elements were lost to my impatience and frustration in the broken narrative. This is such a large part of the book, such an integral storytelling style, it is fused to the core of the appreciation of the story, and it becomes the storytelling itself. I know other people have had similar problems from reading their reviews – and I think this is going to develop into two camps – those that thought the story sped along in a breathtaking climax that lasted the entire book, and those of us whose enjoyment of the book was removed through the Author’s insistence that something exciting was happening often enough to take a break from the action by closing the chapter. A chapter of a paragraph, a sentence even, is ok, when surrounded by chapters of a normal length. It is an emphasis. Here, it was a norm, and yeah, it frustrated me.
Let’s get back to the story, which is frankly Hell on High’s saving grace. Michael has fashioned a great character in his female protagonist in Juliana, we watch her fight her way to freedom and then fight her way to the top of a mountain in an attempt to gather money to save her sister from the fate she herself escaped. In contrast, we have two other stories that are related, that of her father Ze, who travels to America, and also that of the male antagonist, Patrick, who is the hate bait of the book.
Some elements here pushed my believability in the story, such as various ghosts that appear later in the book, that bring a touch of the supernatural to the story. There isn’t an explanation as to why the ghosts appear, or why they appear where they do (One travels all the way from Juliana’s hometown to America to help free Juliana’s sister – likewise, a ghost from America appears on Mount Everest to help push Patrick onward, up the mountain - the logistics of those actions are never addressed – ghosts can appear wherever they will) – but I know that this book ties in supernatural elements from the Patience trilogy – perhaps I was missing something due to not having finished that trilogy – regardless, the “rules” behind the ghosts appearing seemed plot-driven rather than explainable. Also, elements such as the psychic link between Juliana and her father are not explained, and elements such as her knowing he was in America would also probably mean her sister and their adoptive mother were most likely in America too – making her money-making attempts irrelevant. The logic here sometimes took a back seat.
The pace is relentless, and Clark builds the animosity toward Patrick wonderfully, he really is a character to despise. Likewise, Juliana is masterfully crafted, I wanted to stay on Everest to see just how bad it was all going to get.
To summarize is hard. I liked the story. I loved the characters. I didn’t believe in the psychic link, yet believed in the book of shadows Ze finds. I didn’t believe in the ghosts, and couldn’t understand why Juliana’s sister is saved from a dead character that had nothing to do with the sister herself, and who was frankly a subsidiary. I loved every minute on the mountain, despite it only making an appearance after around 65% of the story. Clark makes his ghosts touchable, with form, and able to exact revenge as if they are animated corpses, yet appear from thin air. The logic nerd in me wants it to make sense but is aware that there is a horror army of horror film fans to whom the logistics of that kind of thing are irrelevant.
I’m giving this 3 out of 5 ⭐’s. I enjoyed it, and it frustrated the hell out of me, and I believed it and I didn’t believe it, and I want more yet I don’t know if I could go through that again – if that makes any sense.
My thanks to both Netgalley and Michael for an ARC in return for my honest review.
You can buy HELL ON HIGH by clicking on the appropriate Amazon link below:
You can visit Michael's website HERE.
You can follow Michael on Twitter, HERE.
You can follow Michael on Instagram, HERE.