Friday, 18 September 2015

The Black Tongue - A Review

THE BLACK TONGUE by Marko Hautala

Every society has its own version of the boogieman – a story to tell naughty children in order to scare them into behaving.  Granny Hatchet is only an urban legend told to frighten the teenagers of Suvikyla, Finland.  Or is it?

Granny Hatchet, as her name would suggest, carries a hatchet with her wherever she goes.  She follows children who are out alone.  Her hatchet never fails to strike between the shoulder blades.  She removes their heart, buries it in her garden until it rots and turns black.  Then, and only then, she eats the heart and thereby consumes their soul.

Maisa Riipinen grew up in Suvikyla among the row houses and amidst the refugees who lived there and, she is familiar with the legend of Granny Hatchet, more familiar than she cares to remember.  As a student working on her dissertation about Urban Legends she dares to go back to discover if Granny Hatchet is still a story being told in the dark basement of the townhouse complex.  As Maisa is daring to walk down memory lane Samuel Autio has also come back to his hometown to arrange his father’s funeral.  Samuel and Maisa had known each other as children and share a secret that neither wants to reveal.  Will it come out now that they are both back home as adults?

The first part of this book drew me in.  I was sitting at the edge of my seat enthralled with the gruesomeness of the Granny Hatchet story as it was being told to the children of the town.  I gasped when one of the girls left the secret circle and it became clear she had a secret of own.  Each mysterious footfall she heard had me holding me breath.  And then … well … I’m not really sure.  Jump to Samuel coming home and finding a strange movie playing in his father’s abandoned apartment, the playing of which changed the telling of the story into flashbacks told by both Samuel and Maisa.  Flashbacks that left Granny Hatchet in the literary dust never, really, to be properly revisited again.

At that point the book began to seem a little disjointed.  The story began to jump all over the place, introducing us to an alcoholic, pedophilic hermit, a strange keeper of the marsh, Samuel’s American girlfriend and her crazy, actor father none of whom had anything to do with Granny Hatchet.  Then we are told about some strange sea serpent-like creature hidden in the basement of an old mansion located on an island no one is allowed to visit.

Wait a minute!  What happened?

Judging from the beginning of this book it could have been a really scary read that would have kept me up well into the night to finish it, but the narration lost its way and never really got back on track.  I finished it, and it was not all horrible – there were goose bumpy moments – but overall I thought it could have been better had the author stuck with his original premise and given me the creepy urban legend story promised in the book blurb.

The only saving grace ... and the reason for my 3 star rating ... is there is a twist at the end that did have me letting out an involuntary gasp because I did not see it coming.  It made it worthwhile to get to the last few pages.  And the writing, for lack of a better word, was atmospheric.  Mr. Hautala can certainly write prose that makes you feel the mist and hear the crunch of dry leaves.  At least there was that.
* I received this ebook at no charge via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review *


Marko Hautala's unique blend of psychological thriller and realism has attracted readers of all genres, earning him a reputation as the Finnish Stephen King. His first novel, Itsevalaisevat (The self-illuminated ones), received the Tiiliskivi Prize, and Käärinliinat (Shrouds) received the Kalevi Jäntti Literary Prize for young authors in 2010. Unikoira (Seeing eyes) was nominated for the Young Aleksis Kivi Prize in 2013.

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