Simon Bestwick’s The Faceless is a sturdy beast of a horror book. This grim, supernaturally-loaded tale of genuine melancholy, with a compelling and well evolved plot, is tinted with a sense of despair and anguish. It’s often bleak and ugly – as a tale laced with themes of war and suffering should be – but the story underpinning it is finely crafted.
A series of mysterious and dire events have been slowly unravelling in the town of Kempforth. From the disappearance of numerous people, to the burning down of the local community art centre and deaths of several students attending, some locals are beginning to turn to old myths to provide answers to what are most surreal questions regarding what’s been happening in this close-knit Lancashire community.
It’s not just the general populace puzzled by the occurrences. For the police, too, things are taking decidedly horrific turns, and it’s with DCI Renwick the responsibility has landed to solve a number of gruesome yet enigmatic cases pertaining to the outbreaks of strangeness and terror. Just who, or what, are the spindly men? And can the local historian Anna Mason, whose own family has been touched by the associated tragedy, decipher any of the decidedly nasty puzzles unfolding around them.
It’s not too long before Renwick needs to call upon resources far beyond those which might normally be available to her. TV Psychic Allen Cowell, a man with roots in the town, along with his sister Vera, proves to be an initially unwanted but ultimately unique and useful source of help. But the information revealed, and the nature of the malevolence lurking both on the visible and invisible boundaries of the town, does little to provide any comfort.
The reader is made aware, through interjected epistolary entries throughout, of a number of tragic, often gruesome and always shocking series of affected characters in the past. So it is we get a sense of something awry here, whilst for the characters in the book the mystery remains far more obscured until the novel’s climax. Though the pieces do fall somewhat into place, all is still not clear; like the mist that lurks forever on the periphery in the town, blurring reality, so too is the story hidden effectively by a well laid fog of war.
As the culmination of supernatural events, both lethally manifest and idly threatening, leads concerned and involved members of the community, alongside the police, to the long-abandoned Ash Fell Veteran’s Hospital, a sense of supernatural fury emerges more clearly. With a suitable twist in the action, you’re pulled deep into the chaos as it plays out its final grim cacophony.
The Faceless is an edge-of-your seat read, and definitely needs to be read by any fan of the supernatural horror fiction genre. If you like Ramsey Campbell, Gary McMahon, and Adam Nevill’s work, then you’ll likely enjoy what Simon Bestwick has created here. It’s a compelling novel; decently paced, its greater underlying themes, and messages, linger on after the tale itself has been told.