Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
Pub. Date: March 2012
Summary: The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for.
Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia.
Genre: Paranormal, Horror
Recommended for: readers in a Halloween mood, fans of the Netflix series
I won’t lie: when I first heard Netflix was going to produce their own original line-up, I was more than a little curious. And, truth be told, not entirely convinced they could pull it off. Oh, sure, they’re great at providing me with other company’s material, but how would their own hold up? When Hemlock Grove premiered, Matt and I decided to give it a chance. What would one episode hurt? Before we knew it we were halfway through the season; before the weekend was over, we had burned through every episode. It was only after the fact that I discovered it was based on a novel.
It took two years, but I dusted off my copy and settled in. Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania is a fictional suburb of Pittsburgh and a once-booming steel town. When the times changed, so did the Godfreys, the virtual overlords of the town. The family transitioned from steel to a biotech conglomerate with the ever-shining White Tower at the center of it all. One autumn day, a body (or, rather, what’s left of it) of a teenage girl is discovered and rumors run rampant that it was a werewolf, not a man, who committed this horrible crime.
Hemlock Grove is total camp, but I loved it. I’m always a little nervous to read the source material (details big and small tend to change and entire arcs undergo massive overhauls), but I quickly discovered I had nothing to worry about here. Hemlock Grove followed the book almost religiously, though I shouldn’t be surprised since Brian McGreevy, the author of the novel, is one of the head writers. Because the first season was a year and a half ago, there’s a good deal I forgot; Hemlock Grove (the book) is the entire first season and was not only a great refresher, but I also discovered a few things I had originally missed in the show or tiny details that were cut altogether.
Roman Godfrey, the heir apparent who knows all-too-well the weight his name holds; Peter Rumancek, a constantly-roaming Gypsy who recently moved into the local trailer park with his mother; Shelly Godfrey, Roman’s younger sister and a Frankenstein-esque creation with a heart of gold. These characters were all as wonderfully-fleshed out in the novel as they were in the show. If my heart broke for Shelly ten times over in the show, here it broke a hundred times over. Hands down my favorite character, this sweet girl is even more so within these pages. Something is rotten in Hemlock Grove and this quiet community isn’t nearly as sleepy as it seems. Old, old magic is alive and well and supernatural creatures no longer just exist in storybooks.
The one downside to Hemlock Grove was that, at times, I couldn’t figure out who the narrator was supposed to be. Throughout the novel there were be sentences sprinkled into scenes that broke the Fourth Wall. Was Brian McGreevy actually witnessing these events and then relating the tale to the reader? Was the narrator a character in the book? It was never clear to me.
Hemlock Grove is one of those novels that feels written especially for me. From the cheesy campiness to the numerous Pittsburgh shout-outs, I was completely on board from the very beginning. It’s also one of those rare novels that didn’t need to be virtually re-written for a screen adaptation, so it made picturing nearly the entire novel a joy. Although I’d definitely recommend this one for a Halloween read, Hemlock Grove is more than just a scary story: there’s history, mystery, supernatural elements, romance, and one of my favorite bromances all thrown together to create a ridiculously fun ride.