The Pillbox is a bleak and horrifying book. What starts off by looking like it might be a gentle story about the childhood explorations of a boy on a family beach holiday soon descends into a generational horror story of child abuse and murder.
Set around a Second World War cliff-top pillbox that’s slowly being eroded by the sea, the dark man-made cavern attracts monsters, both real and imagined. The ghosts of its victims haunt the area, as the past and present intermingle, before we’re taken back to 1945, to witness the bunker’s darkest hour.
The twists of the plot are as intricate as they are gut-churning, with Hughes’s writing bowling the story along at a terrific pace. The artwork is distorted and surreal, with echoes of Ralph Steadman’s chaotic illustrations. However, the detail accentuates the ugliness of the whole thing, drawing us uncomfortably deeply into the hateful crimes committed by the book’s main antagonist.
You won’t enjoy this book — there’s no entertainment or escapism to be found here. However, it’s powerful and emotive, and might well be the bleakest and most distressing thing you read this year. If that concept sounds somehow attractive, it’s there for the taking.