BEYOND THE SHROUD by the legendary Rick Hautala—you know, the other Maine prolific author whose scary tales during the ‘80s horror boom and beyond have gathered a faithful following—is definitely worth the time spent. His protagonist is a dead man. Literally. There is no surprise revelation here, since the novel makes you understand the whole situation right from the start. Caught between two worlds, what the author calls the Shadowlands, he meets all kind of strange creatures, one of which is his already deceased daughter (of a skiing accident) who may or may not be who she says she is. At the same time on planet earth mourns his ex-wife (and mother of the deceased child in question) who’s involved herself with a lunatic Brad Pitt type who digs knives. Anyway, to make a long story short, big screen GHOST this ain’t (trust me), but it sure makes you want to think it is at first glance.
Just like the film, Hautala plays with the ethereal and the real world shtick quite convincingly, mixing both in great doze to create a super-charged tale beyond the grave for the quiet horror in you. Because let’s not mince words, BEYOND THE SHROUD is scarcely a no holds barred type of a novel that will make you cringe on the edge of your seat. It will make you cringe all right but in a more subtle way, as mood supersedes any action sequences. Scenes of gloomy atmosphere fill the pages, as well as an impressive rich narrative. But what I remember most about this book is the way Hautala narrates his tale sparingly, taking his time to develop characterization and sceneries up to a point where the reader feels as uncomfortable with dread emanating from the words than from the story itself. And to me that is horror.
Mind you, the plot does tend to verge on predictability, but the overall intake is of pure beauty. I have read a few Hautala titles in my time, and none have disappointed me. Which is a treat, really, when considering the many horror authors one can choose from. My favorite of his still has got to be WINTER WAKE and I urge any publishers to re-release it as an e-book. It is as perfect as… well… an evil-looking winter wonderland. BEYOND THE SHROUD may not reach that same perfection plateau, but it sure deserves the same fate. In an era of blood-drenched narrative, subtlety is more than welcome in horror novels. Well, at least it is in this camp.
UPDATE: Well, it looks like the news just passed me by, for it seems that WINTER WAKE and a few other titles like LITTLE BROTHERS and NIGHTSTONE are already—or soon will be—published in digital form. Go check them out.
Until next post—Martin