Black Mountain by Simon Bestwick, Spectral Press, 11 part Kindle serial, aprox. £2.20 per episode Author’s website
Reviewed by Dave Brzeski
The first thing that struck me about this story is that it features a sort of nested series of occult investigators. Russell Ware, an unsuccessful, but talented science fiction author takes to writing articles on the paranormal for Unexplained Magazine. Having written an article about the accidents and bad luck surrounding the seemingly jinxed holiday village of Hafen Deg, he soon finds that the entire area around Mynydd Du—Black Mountain—has a bad reputation. He thinks there’s potential for a book and begins investigating. It doesn’t go well. Russell Ware goes mad and dies under mysterious circumstances.
Enter Rob Markland. In common with Ware, Markland is a writer. In this case, a horror author, who had a few stories published in the small press magazines of the early 90s. In particular, Markland was published in a magazine called ‘Unreal Dreams’, which was edited by Rick Bennett and featured early work by Simon Bestwick. The same editor also published an anthology—’Oktobyr’—which also featured both writers. Markland finds the original article about Hafen Deg and follows up, eventually discovering the strange events surrounding Russell Ware’s investigations.
Eventually, Rob Markland ends up in a psychiatric facility. He’s uncommunicative, to say the least. After a while, during a relatively lucid phase, he tells the doctor in charge of his case that he will only speak to his old friend, Simon Bestwick, who he hasn’t seen for some 20 years. When Simon does speak to Markland, he is told where to lay his hands on some documents, which the doctor hopes will shed some light on Markland’s state of mind and how to proceed with treatment. Simon is soon presented with several “cases” pertaining to the area in the form of folders full of notes. Farms fail. People go mad, or are ripped apart by strange creatures.
It’s at this point that Simon Bestwick himself takes up the case. As he takes us through these documents, the style varies to suit the particular time and narrator. If anything, the quieter parts—where everything is inexplicably going to hell, and the protagonists have no idea why, beyond blaming each other—are scarier than the gory part, where people get ripped to shreds. One could even see a Lovecraftian influence in the malignant God in the Mountain. The last few parts take on a ‘Blair Witch Project’ feel, with the assorted dictaphone and video camera material that make up the final days leading to Markland ending up in the psychiatric facility.
Simon Bestwick does a great job of varying the writing style throughout to suit that of the various narrators in their various periods—assuming, that is, that he did write it, rather than just transcribe them from the originals. Here’s the thing—if you check, you’ll find that ‘Oktobyr’ and ‘Unreal Dreams’ actually exist, albeit the former is very hard to find copies of, and the latter all but impossible. They do, indeed contain the very stories by Rob Markland, which are mentioned in this book. Now, you make take the view, shared by many people, that Rob Markland was actually a pseudonym that Bestwick and Bennett used for their co-written stories…
In fact, it would very likely be better for everyone if you did just that.
For those who have no interest in an eleven part Kindle serial, a collected paperback edition is scheduled for publication in early 2016.