Saturday, 28 July 2018

'The Robing of the Bride'

Save the best til last is an old adage, and it goes double for short story collections. I think Peter Bell has managed to achieve this with the tenth story in Revenants & Maledictions.

This story concerns Ari, a photographer with a reputation for Gothic, dark works. She is commissioned by a publisher to produce a coffee table book of Scottish castles. If this reminds you of Aickman's 'Ravissante', join the club - and this is a rather Aickmanesque tale.

Ari's favourite castle is owned by an amiable lady who is happy to let her take pictures of everything. And there is a lot to work with, as the garden is full of weird classical statues, including one showing a veiled bride. Bell's description of the garden is again reminiscent of classic British weird tales, especially those by L.P.  Hartley.

Unfortunately, when Ari returns home to develop her films, she finds every negative ruined by some unspecified problem. She must go back to the remote castle. Delays means that when she arrives the former owner is dead. Ari's letters go unanswered. When she returns to the area locals tell her the castle has been taken over by what locals say is a strange, hostile cult. No admittance to the public.

Sure enough, when Ari tries to sneak into the estate she encounters a huge, vicious dog (Aickman, again?) and is captured by the cultists. However, when the new chatelaine greets her it is as if Ari is not merely expected, but an honoured guest. The nature of the cult is outlined, and a tour of the 'restored' castle reveals just how deep in trouble Ari is. And then begins the ritual that gives the tale its title.

This is full-on supernatural horror, albeit not of the more visceral sort. The ending, in particular, hints at Lovecraftian nightmares. Its an excellent finale to a collection that confirms Peter Bell's status as one of the leading writers of British supernatural fiction.

And now I'm going to have a little rest before I start my next running review.

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