A HAZY SHADE OF WINTER
Ash-Tree Press, 211 pages, 1st Edition 2004
A few years ago, Simon Bestwick came to my attention with “Graven” in Darkness Rising One: Night’s Soft Pains. This beautiful, unique tale presents a relationship readers can instantly identify with and mourn; a universal experience of love’s strains and lasting power. How fitting that “Graven” graces the author’s first collection, a debut guaranteed to start Bestwick on the road to well-deserved literary fame. No longer will he remain a precious secret shared by a select circle of fans; after this, everyone is going to be watching his career blossom.
That poignant love story finds an echo in the haunting and hopeless devotion of the narrator in “The Foot of the Garden.” But, “haunting” may well be the perfect adjective to describe Bestwick’s work. Tales of love thwarted and tangled emotions that trap the characters in a moment frozen in time. Witness the agony of indecision in “The Wedding.” What do you do when you get what you’ve been praying for? What do you do with your love after the loved one is taken away?
Bestwick has pondered these questions and seems to have a better understanding of the agony of grief than most of us. That might be because there is another secret you should know about this gifted writer. Simon Bestwick is a man of tremendous empathy and generousity. Everyone knows horror writers want to maintain an air of mysterious menace, but, even in the most shocking of his stories, Bestwick’s humanity shines through, giving his writing even more impact.
But, not every story dwells on love. There are no tender emotions meted out in the wretched village of “The Crows”; this is a miserable company that gleefully awaits the next victim. Certainly, there is no shortage of cruelty and prejudice among the church-going citizens in the titular story: a decidedly unmerry tale of Christmas fear. Anyone who has ever been through the wretchedness of working in an office can relate to “the banality of evil” that torments the victim of “Severance.”
Do some deserve another chance at redemption? Maybe some people actually deserve the torments of that nameless village of “The Crows” or the relentlessly creepy stalking of the Raggedy Man. Maybe others deserve a second chance. Or, perhaps they steal another shot at life, whether they deserve it or not, like the characters in “Love Knot” — a love story it most certainly is not.
The line between good and evil is hardly distinct, Bestwick suggests. Where is the clear villain in “Home From the Sea”? The sinister spectre in “…And Dream of Avalon”? There are no easy answers in A Hazy Shade of Winter. Bestwick’s work is both too complex and subtle to so easily categorise. If you are just learning that, I envy you the surprises and musings awaiting you in this collection from a true modern master of horror.