The Hollow Men | Rob McCarthy | 2016 | Mulholland Books | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
As if being an overworked registrar in a busy London hospital isn’t enough, Dr Harry Kent is also a Force Medical Examiner. One evening, while sleeping off a long shift, Harry is called out by DI Noble of Southwark CID to attend an ‘incident’ at a Chicken Hut. Solomon Idris, 17 years old, has taken the fast food place over with a gun, holding people inside hostage. Apart from anything else, Idris seems ill, hardly able to breathe, and he needs a doctor. Harry goes in and manages to emerge with his life when an unexpected noise causes a jittery armed police officer to fire, shooting the boy, luckily not fatally. But before being shot, Idris tells Harry about Keisha, a girl who stood on a railway line and let a train hit her. ‘They’ killed her, Idris insists, and nobody cares.
While the police begin the investigation into the hostage situation and the shooting of Solomon Idris, Harry is more concerned about Solomon’s illness and the dead girl. Harry is a man who feels deep concern for people in his care, doing his best for them in the few minutes he can grab, especially the patients who seem to have nobody else to look out for them. Harry discovers that Solomon’s doctor is a colleague of his, once a very dear friend who had saved his life when they worked in the military together, but now all that is in the past, dead and buried. Working together will not prove easy, if possible at all.
The Hollow Men is an engrossing thriller that throws us headfirst into the stressful, exhausting world of young hospital doctors, working in a strictly hierarchical environment, where moments of sleep are snatched, artificial stimulants might be taken, and life or death decisions are taken daily. Despite the best of efforts, though, this is not a world where everyone is perfect, mistakes are made – as Harry’s own experiences prove for starters – and, as Harry digs into Solomon’s illness and the reasons for Keisha’s suicide, he discovers that there are some among his profession who mean nothing but harm. Some people are hollow.
Harry Kent is such a fabulous leading character and it’s good news to learn that there will be more cases to come. Medical drama and crime thrillers go so well together and Kent shows why. He is caring and dedicated, his flaws and his past mistakes could be insurmountable but he is resilient and driven by an energy that is exhilarating. I liked him enormously. His military history is worn lightly while his consideration for others is shown time and time again through actions and his relationships to others.
The mystery is a disturbing one and leads Harry and DI Noble down no end of twisty paths into a bleak and murky world. While I did guess the perpetrator, it wasn’t before I had suspected half of the cast list. The locations are well used, from the hospital to the Chicken Hut to the streets of London. This is a novel that is constantly on the move. I enjoyed its energy and tension. Its mix of medical and crime thriller is done so well. This is a debut novel, written by a medical student, and it most certainly won’t be the last we hear from Rob McCarthy, a hugely talented and original author.