Originally Published at Freshly Ground on April 4th 2009
Here we are, back again. I'd like to get straight into my review of Hoad's Grim, but first I need to say a few words about the Audiobook market and my previous review of Phil Rossi's Crescent. Mainly, it needs to be said that there are two (at least) very different creatures out there; the audio drama, and the author-read audiobook. Both are performance art, but they exist in different parts of the creative sphere, and I was in error to compare Hoad's Grim to Crescent in the first place.
Crescent was read and produced by the author, and since finishing Crescent I have listened to many more author-read podcasts, most of which I couldn't make it right through the first chapter of, either because of the quality of the performance or the audio itself, or because the story didn't grab me like I thought it would. Of all those I've listened to, Crescent still rates at the top (followed closely now by Eden, Phil Rossi's new podcast novella.).
Hoad's Grim, on the other hand, is a highly polished, magnificently produced audio performance, incorporating fantastic layerings of dialogue, sound effects and music. There are also multiple professional voice talents involved in this production, including the author Jack Kincaid and vocal maestro James "Killer" Keller, as well as the not inconsiderable audio production skills that Kincaid brings to bear on the work. Like The Leviathan Chronicles, Hoad's Grim is a lavish professional production, and needs to be considered as such.
Before you ask, Hoad's Grim is a horror story, so if the genre doesn't appeal, then I imagine that the audiobook won't. Non-aficionados of the horror genre are excused, and for those who are fans and wish to continue reading, I promise there will be no spoilers.
Except to say that this is about a haunted fridge. Oh yeah. Now that is a scary premise, all unto itself. It may sound odd and a bit lame, but I guarantee you it's not. I will never look at an old fridge rusting in an empty lot the same way again.
Before I started listening to this, I was an Audiobook virgin, and Hoad's Grim most definitely popped my cherry, and left me wanting more. As soon as I started listening to the prologue, I was transported to another time and place, and even into another mind. It was nothing like what I had expected, and I immediately wanted to hear more. The story hooks the listener in right from the start, as the multiple layers of speech, music, atmos and effects draw you down deeper into the dark and frankly terrifying world that Kincaid builds.
There is never any confusion about who is speaking at any time, or where the characters might be - unless Kincaid doesn't want you to know. And that just makes it all the more scary. Like a good horror movie, the frights in HG come as much from what you can't see or hear but from what you might sense on the edges of perception; the creeping sense of dread that clings to every darkened doorway and silent television conjured through words and sounds alone.
What really made HG work was its completely immersive experience. I listen to my audiobooks in the car driving to and from work, and when I had HG on, I could drive untold kilometres and only remember being on the windy, weed-choked curb of Saybrook Way, watching Chad "The Hammerman" Hyman struggle with the demons in his mind, and lurking in the shadows of that haunted street. It was like reading a book but better, because the voices were there, and the wind curled around their words, and the chittering of the dark creations that grew out of the shadows actually chittered across the speakers, scraping and clawing as if they sought their own way into the world.
I sat up in bed one night, with most of the lights off, listening, because I was really hooked on the story. I only did that once. I like my sleep.
Based on the folklore of the tommyknockers, HG plays on everyone's fear of unseen things that go bump in the night, and on the fear of being left alone in the dark with those things. The listener is left chilled by what the mind is not just encouraged to imagine, as in a book, but by those conjured horrors which you are forced to see in the darkness behind your own eyes as the audio landscape drags you into Kincaid's twisted nightmare.
If you like a good scare, then this comes highly recommended. Hoad's Grim is complete at 24 chapters and available free from Kincaid's site. I have been unable to fault HG, and I will probably listen to it again. I was going to say that I thought the last chapter had left a few too many loose ends, but then I realised that there was one more that I hadn't downloaded, so that puts a lid on that.
Absolutely brilliant. Whether you're a fan of horror and want to hear just how good an audiodrama can be, or if you love good audiobooks and are willing to dare the terrors that lurk in the Grim, do yourself a favour and listen to this.
For more interesting info, you can check out this interview with Jack Kincaid and James Keller, by John Joseph Adams of Tor.com (Part 1; Part 2). This was the article that got me interested enough to listen to a story about a haunted fridge. Yip, a haunted fridge. Brilliant stuff.