Thomas Olde Heuvelt takes readers deep into the blizzard of his imagination in his book, Echo. Released in Dutch in 2019 and translated into English for release this week, the book represents excellent horror writing. It will chill you to the bone, because of its setting and its suspenseful plot.
The book’s story focuses on two young men. One is American Sam Avery, who’s been living in Amsterdam because his partner Nick Grevers is Dutch. In many ways, this relationship works because opposites attract. Nick is the strong, silent type while Sam is chatty to the point of constant oversharing. Old Heuvelt writes Sam with all the tropes of the young, present-day, rich American.
Everything’s going well for them until Nick heads off to climb a few peaks in the Swiss Alps with his mountaineering buddy, Augustin. Sam has a long-held aversion to the mountains, so he sits these trips out. Normally Nick and Augustin plan their trips with meticulous care. However, this time they make a fateful and unplanned side trip to a mountain called the Maudit.
And what follows is tragic and frightening for them, for Sam, and for the people of the nearby Swiss village, Grimentz. First, Nick and Augustin discover that time and distance on the mountain don’t follow expected conventions. What should take an hour instead takes several. Still, they summit the peak. But a huge storm blows through as they descend. And Nick starts to notice some odd things happening to his pal Augustin. And then he notices them in himself.
Amazingly, Nick makes it off the mountain. But everything Sam fears about the sport and the location come true. The climb was disastrous on several levels. And together the two men must deal with the fallout.
Like most horror, it’s hard to review Echo without giving away major plot points. I will say that Olde Heuvelt combines elements from ancient legends, village superstitions, weather phenomena, and climbing techniques. Plus, he injects fear and dissonance at every level. I wanted to finish the book as fast as possible because the resolution seems so elusive. At the same time, the intensity often became overwhelming enough that I turned away.
I will also say that if you’ve ever felt addicted to a sport or activity, a place, or a person, you will find a bit of yourself in this story. Now imagine taking it to the maximum limits of possibility and you have the core of Echo’s plot.
Olde Heuvelt alternates between the voices of the two men, relying more on Sam’s perspective overall. As I mentioned, Sam used 20 words when ten would suffice, which is frustrating more than charming. On the other hand, Nick is measured and careful in his descriptions of events. Until he talks about mountaineering, where he loses me in the immense quantity of details.
Still, Olde Heuvelt shifts between the two with enough frequency that they balance each other out. And he injects several minor characters who provide the men with support and information to solve the mystery. However, some of the side plots could be less prominent, since they aren’t vital to the story.
Overall, the conclusion isn’t an easy solution. Reading Echo is a bit like being caught in a whiteout storm. The plot is often cryptic, with the author leading readers up, down, and through a complex maze. This certainly heightens the suspense. It also unfortunately slows down the tempo of the book. I wanted a more direct path to the summit.
Still, Echo is a worthy horror choice from a relatively young author. I hope he writes many more books and continues to refine his craft.
Pair with Grief is a Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, since crows (or their mountain cousins, called choughs) figure prominently in both.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan – Tor/Forge, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.