Andrew Michael Hurley completely disregards several of Elmore Leonard’s ten rules of good writing in his debut novel The Loney, notably in regard to the weather, regional dialects and detailed descriptions of characters. His disregard is justified, however, because the weather–bleak, rain-soaked days–is as much a character in the story as the people that suffer through the constant downpours, whipping winds and blanketing fog while on a pilgrimage to northwest England to renew their faith and seek a miracle that will restore the voice of the mute boy “Hanny” Smith.
Told from the perspective of the boy’s older brother, The Loney winds back to the early spring of 1973 and details how a mini-bus of parishioners head out to The Loney, taken there by Father Bernard, a new priest who has recently replaced the much-loved and equally feared, Father Wilfred, whose unexpected death remains clouded in suspicion. Their task is to follow the rituals of past visits, as directed by the near-fanatical mother of the two boys, culminating in a ceremony at a shrine intended to demonstrate their faith and to seek a cure for Hanny’s silent ailment.
All is not as it seems, with some of the locals acting in both strange and intimidating ways. The sense of menace grows as the days move closer to the final ceremony, with disturbing discoveries and events that may have a supernatural–but decidedly unholy nature–taking place.
Hurley uncoils the tension steadily, building it as much by what is merely suggested but never seen. The Loney itself is a frightening entity, the sea lashing the shore and strong tides ready to sweep away the unsuspecting at a moment’s notice. Adding to this are the unpredictable actions of Hanny, derisively referred to as “the retard” by several sinister men who are paradoxically helpful and threatening.
The atmosphere Hurley creates feels so authentic you may almost want to open an umbrella while reading. Likewise, Hurley does a terrific job in slowly revealing mysteries, often leaving out just enough information for the reader to fill in the gaps with whatever hideous things they can imagine. My only disappointment comes with the somewhat bland ending, which doesn’t match the emotional impact of the events leading up to it.
The strengths of The Loney are more than enough to compensate for the weakness of the ending, though. The journey of these characters is fascinating to witness, as quiet niceties and the routine of ritual gives way to darker matters, testing the faith of all–and breaking it forever for some.