The Hill Ghost – Callan McAuliffe (2018)

It’s a well-known fact that I am an enormous fan of the global phenomenon that is The Walking Dead (“enormous” in that I love the show a great deal, not at all referring to the fact that I could really stand to lose a few pounds of late…), and, as such, I would be lying if I said that my somewhat embarrassing man-crush on the charming Callan McAuliffe, known to viewers as Alden, the Savior with a heart of gold and a voice like Galaxy chocolate, had not led to my embarkation on our latest literary voyage.

McAuliffe’s first novel, ‘The Hill Ghost’ tells the charming tale of a Tibetan Mastiff (the titular “Ghost”) as he tends his flock of sheep on a lonely hillside in 19th Century Scotland. Life is peaceful for the dog; his days spent chasing rabbits and trading ponderances with his stalwart companion Blue, a nautically-tongued seagull blown off-course by high winds. Indeed, all seems well for the Mastiff and his wards until, one evening, the dismal figure of a wolf approaches the fold, informing them that his pack, previously thought to have been driven to extinction, have returned to take back their former hunting grounds.

Thereafter, the old Mastiff forms an unlikely bond with his savage cousin, determined not to see his life’s work fall before him.

Throughout ‘The Hill Ghost’, we are presented with a menagerie of wonderfully written characters; Blue, the seagull, brilliantly brings an other-worldliness to proceedings, his describing of everything in nautical terms a secret code formed over years of friendship between himself and the dog. Each of the wolves is a fully-formed character, with betrayals being ever-more heart-wrenching by McAuliffe’s ability to bring them to life. Even characters who only appear for a matter of pages; an Irvine Welsh-like robin, a pair of chattering foxes, a world-weary lizard, are all so bloody delightful that each deserve a novella of their own. The journey of our protagonist is exhausting, and by the end of the novel we feel every desperate blow as he fights for his beliefs.

McAuliffe’s influences are clear throughout. There is something utterly Tolkeinesque in both his story-telling and his dialogue, with a richness to his verbosity that is enviable in such a young writer. He has also clearly learned a few tricks from his Walking Dead brethren, with a vicious bloodlust that will snatch even the most cherished player away from the reader at a moment’s notice.

In ‘The Hill Ghost’, McAuliffe has proved himself a true Renaissance man; not only is he a stellar actor and an outstanding singer, but his ability as a wordsmith is admirable. I’m glad I gave this one a go (though I’ll admit that I did forgo the rather pricey thirty-something quid it would’ve cost for a physical copy to have been sent across the pond in favour of the Kindle edition), and am very much looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Hopefully it’s not his head on a pike…

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