Fantastic Reviews - Horror / Dark Fantasy Book Review
Hawkes Harbor Hinton cover  Hawkes Harbor by S.E. Hinton

Tor Books hardcover - copyright 2004
251 pages
Cover photo by Photonica

Book reviewed October 2004

Rating: 3/10  (Not Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

          S.E. Hinton earned a legion of fans with her highly successful teen novels, many adapted into major studio films in the 1980s, including The Outsiders (written when she was only 16); That Was Then, This Is Now; Tex; and Rumble Fish.  Aside from two short books for young children, however, she had not published anything since 1988.  Now she returns with Hawkes Harbor, her first novel for adult readers.

One can only wonder why Hinton chose to come out of retirement and make her first foray into adult fiction with such an unambitious and uninspired tale.  Hawkes Harbor is a horror story you've seen done, and done better, many times before.

The protagonist of Hawkes Harbor, Jamie Sommers, is an orphan from the same mold of heroes with tough exteriors but soft centers that Hinton used in her young adult fiction, save only that Jamie is in his twenties rather than his teens.  As the story begins in 1967 (I cannot guess why Hinton set the story in the 1960s, for she makes no use of the history of that period), Jamie is a patient in the Terrace View Asylum, suffering from partial amnesia, severe depression, and fear of the dark.  The first two-thirds of the book tells of Jamie's past three years through a series of flashbacks.  Some of these flashbacks are recounted to the director of Terrace View, Dr. Phillip McDevitt, whose only function in the book is to listen to them, but since Hinton also includes many flashbacks to events of which Jamie has no memory, Dr. McDevitt really has no reason to be here at all.

Apparently Hinton switched to adult fiction not only so she could include explicit sex, but also to be able to use a wider range of narrative devices, particularly telling the story out of chronological sequence.  I have no objection to this technique when it adds to the story, and am only mildly annoyed when it does not, but in Hawkes Harbor the out of sequence narrative actually detracts from the story.  The first half of the book follows Jamie's career as a smuggler, avoiding cutthroats and sharks and foreign prisons, yukking it up with his good (but not trusted) friend Kellen Quinn, all of which might have been interesting, except that midway through this section Hinton destroys all dramatic tension by giving away the secret to come in the second half of the book.

*******SPOILER WARNING********
Hinton reveals the secret of Hawkes Harbor only sixty pages in, so I think it's fair to discuss in this review, but the publisher has been careful not to reveal the secret, so I didn't want to give it away without this warning.  If you plan to read this book (I don't recommend it, but Hinton fans may wish to judge for themselves) and don't want to know the secret in advance, stop reading this review now.
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The secret is that Hawkes Harbor, Delaware is home to a vampire.  Jamie is going to get bitten, although not fatally.  He will end up enthralled to and employed by the vampire, Grenville Hawkes.  We're told this in a brief flashback sixty pages in, but the main sequence of flashbacks doesn't get to that stage until nearly halfway through the book.  And once we know there is a vampire lurking in the story, it is impossible to care about Jamie's misadventures on the high seas or his post-teen angst, because we're waiting to see the friggin' vampire.  This is a shame, since the most entertaining character in the novel, the Irish rogue Kellen Quinn, plays an important role only in the smuggling scenes, making only one appearance in the vampire story.

Once we finally get to it, the middle section of the novel, giving flashbacks to Jamie's horrific initial encounters with the vicious but aristocratic vampire, who had been locked away for generations before Jamie unwittingly discovered and freed him, is by far the most absorbing portion of the book.  In particular, I found Kellen Quinn's single appearance in this section the one truly frightening passage in the entire novel, perhaps because he was the only character who ever held my interest.  Unfortunately, this middle section is also the shortest, giving only the sketchiest details of the history of the vampire Grenville Hawkes and little insight into his character, and disposing of Jamie's only meaningful romantic involvement in a hurried, unsatisfying fashion.

For the last third of the novel, the flashbacks come to a sudden halt and Jamie returns to Hawkes Harbor after Grenville has him released from Terrace View, the asylum having served no useful purpose either for Jamie or for Hinton.  Then follows a series of incidents told in episodic fashion – Jamie gets knocked down by a prankster's rock, Jamie goes on a cruise and enjoys a ménage à trois, etc. – all unconnected except that they show that working for a vampire is a drag.

Actually, they don't even show that, because by the last third of the book, the previously evil and cruel Grenville has somehow mellowed, decided to go cold turkey on the drinking blood habit, and become a kind-hearted gentleman.  This surprising transformation of Grenville Hawkes should have been the most interesting part of the story, but Hinton inexplicably has it all occur offstage while Jamie is at Terrace View.  Don't look to any future books for answers, either, because (I am pleased to report) Hawkes Harbor ends in a way that forecloses any possibility of a sequel.  We don't know why Grenville Hawkes decided to become a nice guy; all we know is that this change renders the last section of the book entirely dull and pointless.

          Which is worse, a vampire story with no vampire or a vampire story with a harmless vampire?  Hawkes Harbor tries both, and it is not a good combination.
Addendum:  After this review appeared, a reader e-mailed with the suggestion that S.E. Hinton intended Hawkes Harbor to be published as a Dark Shadows novel, and when that fell through she changed the names of the characters and places - Barnabas Collins became Grenville Hawkes, Willie Loomis became Jamie Sommers, etc.  I have not seen any statement by Hinton confirming or denying this, nor have I watched enough Dark Shadows to be in a position to judge, although the author of the Dark Shadows Journal page linked below obviously knows something about the show and seems to believe the theory. If this is true, then devoted Dark Shadows fans may get more out of Hawkes Harbor than I did.  For me, it only makes the book even more puzzling.  While I have nothing against Dark Shadows, I am mystified that Hinton should wish to end her lengthy retirement with a media tie-in to a television show that went off the air over thirty years ago.  If that is the career path she has chosen, however, I only hope that her next project will be a Kolchak: The Night Stalker book!
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
vanaaron@excite.com
Copyright © 2004 Aaron Hughes

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Links to websites about S.E. Hinton:
S.E. Hinton.com - The Official S.E. Hinton web site
Dark Shadows Journal | Hawkes Harbor
The Austin Chronicle Books: S.E. Hinton on 'Hawkes Harbor'


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Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

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