Review: Hellweg’s Keep by Justin Holley

cover of Hellweg's KeepHellweg’s Keep by Justin Holley
Flame Tree Press (November 2023)
256 pages; $16.77 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Horror in space has always held a special place in many readers’ hearts. However, for the most part it’s been more prevalent on the screen than on the page. Thankfully, the subgenre has been making a comeback in the past few years, striking a fine balance between science fiction and dread.

Justin Holley has added an interesting entry into this canon with Hellweg’s Keep. a novel that brings to mind several elements of well-known and well-loved stories, including The Thing, the worlds of Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft — all while keeping it grounded, no pun intended.

Thirty-seven miners have disappeared on the titanium moon, Zeta One, on the planet Terra. Of course, stories abound by the inhabitants, bringing out fears of the unknown, from pathogens to creatures to haunted entities. Holley paints a bleak but fascinating setting that Ridley Scott would love with the deep caverns and passageways and shadowy threats from forces nobody can fathom.

This is where many novels of its kind fall apart — setting up a frightening world but tripping over the characters they concoct to live out the nightmares — often, they become only pawns or fodder for the horrors between the covers. Holley, thankfully, rises to the occasion, and places people who feel at home in the deep, dark mines.

FBI agent Kendra Omen arrives on Zeta One to investigate the disappearances, which at first may seem odd (the FBI on distant worlds?) but it works here as she brings a world of baggage that is echoed by whatever lurks in the mines. The ghost of her daughter plagues her, threatening to break her spirit and sanity. Adding to the cast is a paranormal protector (he’s likely the most interesting person within the story) and a pair of paranormal investigators (wait — there’s paranormal activity on this moon?) to help investigate the mining company’s disaster. And a missionary? Of course — but it all works, as if The Legend Of Hell House was shot into the cosmos with Ripley flying the ship.

The characters each bring something unique to the table here, even if they seem like an odd stew of mismatched ingredients. It’s that discordant interplay that amps up the tension and dread, as this team is anything but a team.

The creatures, beings, and other unknowns? Keep reading. Holley must have had a ball writing this as the excitement bleeds onto the page.

Recommended reading for fans of space horror or just a solid read.

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