Let’s Drink to the Dead is a must read for anyone who enjoyed Simon Bestwick’s second novel, The Faceless. Set in the same Lancashire town of Kempforth, it features three interconnected stories that create a prequel to the events of the novel.
The first story, most recognisable to readers of The Faceless, is ‘The Sight’ which details the circumstances of Alan and Vera escaping the cycle of abuse suffered at the hands of their step-father. This is the most referenced of these mini stories within the novel, and whilst this gives it an air of familiarity it also serves to enhance both the character of Vera and the reader’s understanding of the woman she has become through the events of The Faceless.
In ‘Gideon’ the reader is introduced to Dani, a young girl heading to Manchester in the hope of finding work and helping her family who have been left destitute by the closure of the local coal mine. A frantic escape from a less than gentlemanly van driver leads her to Ash Fell, the derelict asylum for war veterans that featured prominently in The Faceless. This is the weakest of the stories with a twist that will come as little surprise to most horror fans but it does add an interesting back-story about the history of the property and what went on there.
‘How Briefly Dead Children Dream’ is the best story – full of tense situations and eerie atmospherics. The story concerns Myfanwy, grandmother of Anna from the novel, and how she and her friend Bronislaw go up against the Shrike in a battle for the lives of two small children. The Shrike is a great creation with a mix of mannered aloofness and vicious anger that creates a real sense of tension and concern for the characters. The final showdown in the woods surrounding Ash Fell is expertly written, blending an ominous feeling of dread with brutal action.
Let’s Drink to the Dead can be read as a stand-alone piece as the three stories overlap enough to create a cohesive story of its own, but it really works best with knowledge of the novel and the two combined create a fascinating storyline that spans several decades in the history of Kempforth.
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