Friday, 13 January 2012

‘The Faceless’ – Simon Bestwick (Solaris)

In what is certain to be an ongoing theme this year, I am temporarily ditching my vow to read lots of fantasy in order to pick up some horror instead. It’s not like I haven’t done this before so shall we just pretend that the vow never happened? No, I still intend to read a lot more fantasy, than I have done, this year but I’m sure you’ll understand if other books come along that catch my eye and beg to be read (I know I’m not the only person that this happens to...) Books like Simon Bestwick’s ‘The Faceless’ for example.

‘The Faceless’ was a book that I’d earmarked, at the back of my mind, for future reading a long time ago. I’ve mentioned it elsewhere already but Bestwick’s ‘Tide of Souls’ wasn’t just a great spin on regular zombie tales but it was also a gripping and chilling read in its own right. After putting that book down I promised myself I’d be reading whatever novel he wrote next.

When ‘The Faceless’ came through my door I had to make good on that promise and get reading more or less straight away. It was worth getting stuck into as well. You’ll need a word a lot stronger than ‘chilling’ to describe what’s going on here...

A mist has fallen over the Lancashire town of Kempforth, all the better to hide the dark deeds happening in it’s streets and homes. People are disappearing and the locals are blaming the Spindly Men, masked figures out of legend that might not be so mythical after all...
When a two year old girl goes missing, Detective Chief Inspector Renwick vows to stop at nothing until she finds her. It’s a journey that will bring her into contact with TV psychic Allen Cowell and his sister Vera, visions summoning them back to a town that they thought they’d never see again. It’s a journey that will also bring Renwick into contact with Anna Mason, a local historian who is just beginning to realise the true scale of the dark secret that the town hides. It’s a journey that will end in the depths of a long abandoned hospital; something terrible waits for them there and only a few will make it out alive. However, they might just come to wish that they had died inside with their friends...

A good horror novel will leave you shocked or scared at what you find on each page and secretly glad that you can put the book down, at its end, and return to your normal everyday life. An excellent horror novel though, well... An excellent horror novel will leave you feeling strangely hollow to begin with as what you read demands all your mental space and will swiftly vacate any pretence you had of getting back to normality. That done, the excellent horror novel will move in; making you feel horribly uncomfortable while it settles in. It might be days, or even weeks, before it moves on and you won’t be able to get those deeply unsettling images out of your mind in the meantime. ‘The Faceless’ is an excellent horror novel and this is exactly what it has been doing to me since I read it. It will happen to you as well and that’s why you should give it a go.

The premise is very simple yet rendered through Bestwick’s ability to tread that fine line between delivering the horror while paying the utmost respect to the subject matter. The soldiers of the Great War sacrificed a lot for their country, some of them made that sacrifice for years afterwards. What if they could see what was bought through their sacrifice and felt cheated? Some might want to lash out in anger, others might want to come back and remake the world to fit in with their own ideals and dreams... Bestwick doesn’t sensationalise anything here and that’s what makes the book work so well. He leaves you in no doubt as to the sacrifice these men made and how they were exploited on more than one level. There’s true horror here and while you will recoil from what these men will eventually do you won’t be able to help but feel sympathy for them at the same time.

At the same time, we have a living cast who are trying to get to the bottom of a mystery in the mist filled streets of Kempforth. They have no idea what is going on and it’s all credit to Bestwick that he manages to keep the reader in the dark as well, even while he is slowly telling us about what is really going on. Thanks to this approach there are some nasty surprises in store and it only gets worse, and even bleaker, as the plot progresses. This isn’t a tale of redemption as no-one really deserves any here.

What you get here then is a cast of damaged characters feeling their way through mist filled streets that are gloriously atmospheric. They don’t know what lies in the fog and neither do you, the reader gets to find out at exactly the same time as the characters and this makes for some heart stopping moments. All the while, we’re being shown just exactly what makes these characters tick. You may not like all of them (I didn’t) but you can totally empathise with them as they make decisions that are questionable to say the least.

‘The Faceless’ is primarily a psychological horror but this doesn’t stop Bestwick from laying on the gore at exactly the right moments and at just the right level. It will shock but it’s never cartoonish. Perhaps the real horror lies in the serious consideration paid to a certain course of action right at the very end of the book. That was an image that stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

‘The Faceless’ is a relentless spiral into the dark side of humanity and readers will get to see some truly horrifying things, headed in the opposite direction, as they make that journey downwards. Absolutely essential reading for anyone after a scary read that carries on it’s work long after you’ve put the book down.

Nine and a Half out of Ten


Nibbles said...

Hmm, I don't read a lot of horror, but this one does look extremely tempting..thanks for the review :)

benito said...

Heard of this but am unfamiliar with the author; now its a must read! Thanks Graeme!

Chris Wood said...

He's a great writer and I'll be sure to check it out.

Great review, btw. Cheers.

Jamie Gibbs said...

Psychological horrors are by far my favourite part of the genre - your initial comparison to Session 9 had me interested, and by the sounds of it, it's got the same suspense and atmosphere that should do well to keep me sufficiently terrified while I read. Must check this out, thanks for the review.

Graeme Flory said...

Jamie - The initial comparison to 'Session 9' was purely based on the cover art :o) The book is just as chilling but very different.

Anonymous said...

Good review. As I read parts of this book, I was thinking to myself, "This is happening??"

Then I read on. "Yep - this is happening!"

Bestwick's got balls.