Title: Mr. Big Empty
Series: Hollow Folk: Book One
Author: Gregory Ashe
Length: 381 Pages
Category: Teen Fiction, Murder Mystery
At a Glance: This book isn’t perfect, but it’s close enough to being that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a dark and gritty bit of Teen Fiction.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Vie Eliot arrives in the small town of Vehpese, Wyoming with little more than the clothes—and scars—on his back. Determined to make a new life for himself after escaping his abusive mother, he finds that living with his estranged father brings its own problems.
Then Samantha Oates, the girl with blue hair, goes missing, and Vie might be the only one who can find her. His ability to read emotions and gain insight into other people’s darkest secrets makes him the perfect investigator, with only one small problem: he wants nothing to do with his gift.
When the killer begins contacting Vie through a series of strange cards, though, Vie is forced to hone his ability, because Samantha was not the killer’s only target.
And, as Vie learns, he is not the only psychic in town.
Review: “I don’t think you could be a good influence if you tried,” she said, and her smile flashed genuine. “You’re carrying a pack of trouble and you think it’s all for yourself.”
If you read the blurb for Gregory Ashe’s The Big Empty and think it’s just another psychic detective novel, let me assure you this isn’t just another psychic detective novel. If you read the blurb and think this is just another generic teen mystery novel about some kid who has clues falling into his lap to make him look like an adolescent super-sleuthing machine, that’s also not this book (although, Vie does accomplish more than the actual lawmen do). This book isn’t teenage fluff either, nor is it perfect, but it’s close enough to being that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a murder mystery featuring a deeply flawed teenage protagonist.
Vie Eliot is new to the town of Huecos. The first thing I learned to appreciate about Vie is his name and how tiresome it is to answer the same question over and over again. Vie isn’t short for anything, just Vie, and the kid has had it rough. It’s made him a fighter. What he vies for on a daily basis is a sense of place in a world where abuse at his mother’s hand used to be his normal, which is how he ended up living with his loser junkie of a father in a dumpy apartment that shares a parking lot with a shady bar owned by an even shadier character. At first blush Vie is barb wire, sharp edges and bitterness, which are all a manifestation of his pain, and that collective anger presents itself outwardly as a tendency towards fist-first confrontations, and inwardly as a need to inflict self-harm.
Vie’s first encounter with an unknown-to-him boy and girl while he’s out on a run one morning—the running is also integral to who he is—coupled with the disaster that is the literal first minutes at his new school, set the story in motion. Before Ashe leads readers too far along into Vie’s personal issues, though, he introduces that girl’s disappearance and probable murder, which happens to be the second such crime in this otherwise sleepy Wyoming town.
With a couple of his classmates looking good for the crime, and the small town populated by its share of sketchy characters, Vie volunteers to help in the search for Samantha Oates. What possible motive could someone have to kill her, and beyond that, who would be capable of committing an act of coldblooded murder? When Austin Miller and Emmett Bradley each look to fit the profile of plausibility—if not the motive, exactly, certainly the opportunity—Austin hires Vie to do something that made me step back and appreciate Ashe’s delivery of the request. That’s when the sleuthing begins and when Vie is challenged to put his psychic abilities to the real test. But it isn’t long before things start to get personal for Vie—with Austin and Emmett as well as in the investigation.
This novel thrives on Vie Eliot’s capable narration. His storytelling is provocative and his personal revelations are frequently heart-wrenching. We get an intimate look at his thoughts and feelings, his pain, and the diversion and aversion tactics he uses to keep from having to reveal too much of himself to everyone else. This author seems to have a knack for writing characters who aren’t inherently endearing and then casually endearing them to me through whatever their issues are. In this case that endearment is solidified when Vie takes two kids, a brother and sister, under his wing because their mother frequently neglects them—his caring for them shows a softer side that is necessary to blunt some of his aggression and to show readers his capacity for compassion.
The murder mystery in the story progresses in fits and starts, as they often do, much of it dredging up some disturbing details about the execution of Samantha’s murder. Vie circles around the drain more than a few times in his investigation, which is plausible, but there was one revelation in particular that I hope will be addressed as the series progresses; otherwise, I’ll have to call it a significant plot hole, though I’ll reserve judgement on it until I have more of the story. One thing is certain, the way this book ends leaves a lot more to tell about the extrasensory goings-on yet to be explored and revealed, and I’m hooked.
A secondary ‘mystery’ that converges with the murder plot involves Vie’s attraction to both Emery and Austin. Emmett is the archetypical bad boy, Austin is more the boy next door (who I believe still has some explaining to do), and they both come from money which makes Vie the broody boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Neither Emmett nor Austin is out, they both have an air of trouble about them, and I’m not 100% certain which of them Vie will end up with because Ashe is playing it rather coy with this story element. It’s neither revealed in the blurbs for the following books nor is it cut-and-dried clear to me at the end of this book. All the clues are there, but a good red-herring in a mystery is a thing for a reason, so I’m anxious to see what happens in the relationship arc too.
Overall, this book is a fantastic read if you appreciate a darker, grittier element to your Teen Fiction and are willing to subscribe to the belief that these boys are as suave and sophisticated as they’re portrayed. That’s not a slight against teenagers, or the author, for that matter, but more an observation that sixteen year olds are generally less smooth than Vie and his classmates are portrayed, so I sometimes forgot that I was reading a book with teenage protagonists, but that’s an insignificant niggle in my full-on enjoyment of this novel.
You can buy Mr. Big Empty here:
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