Where the Dead Wait by Ally Wilkes, a horror book review by Jim Mcleod
With the country being caught in the middle of a horrible cold weather snap, Where The Dead Wait by Ally Wilkes is the perfect book to curl up in front of a fire with a fine glass of whisky and your favourite snack, but don’t go meta and leave the crispy human flesh chips for another book. Unless that really is your preferred snack of choice. Who am I to judge?
Two years ago, Ally Wilkes crashed into the UK horror scene with their excellent Antarctic ghost novel All the White Spaces, published by Titan Books. In their sophomore Titan novel Where The Dead Wait, Ally Wilkes returns with another chilling, ice-filled gothic horror book. However, does Ally Wilkes bring something new with this new novel, or are they carefully treading in the footprints in the snow of their previous novel?
Where The Dead Wait shares some common themes with All the White Spaces, such as isolation, the fear of the unknown, a doomed expedition, and a slow but inevitable spiral into desperation, despair, and delirium. However, one must remember that Where The Dead Wait, like its predecessors, is a gothic horror novel, and those themes are the backbone of the genre. And when the writing is this marvellous in how it tackles our preconceptions of the gothic novel trope, the familiarity of the setting and broad themes are thrown aside with a flurry of frosty fury!
Told via a dual narrative timeline method, Where The Dead Wait is William Day’s story. After being forced to command a doomed expedition, when the Captain succumbs to scurvy, he is forced to make a horrible and devasting decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life and career. Wilkes’s handling of Day’s story in this timeline is heartbreaking, powerful and filled with some wonderous descriptions of both the novel’s landscape and the symbolic landscape of Day’s onerous task.
With his life, mental health and reputation in complete tatters Day, he is commissioned to command a new ship, The Resolution, and tasked with finding his old second in command, Jess Stevens, who has vanished on another polar expedition. I don’t know about you, but unless I were utterly desperate, I would have run a mile if anyone had asked me to relieve the worst days of my life, especially when there is a mystery at foot.
However, Olive Emeline Stevens, the wife of Jess Stevens, manages to force his hand, and Day takes up the role of an enforced captain once more. Aided by Qila, Olive’s psychic friend who conducts a number of seances to help them find the whereabouts of her husband. As the hunt for Jess unfolds, we, the readers, are presented with a poignant and ingeniously written account of Day’s descent into madness and despair as he is forced to face the ghosts and monsters of his past.
When it comes to descriptive storytelling, Wilkes is an absolute master. Their gift at using powerful metaphoric descriptive passages while maintaining the reader’s interest in the story is a joy to behold. As reviewers, we all talk about setting the scene, and Wilkes’s ability to capture the deathly cold of the Arctic wasteland and the horrors, both natural and metaphysical, is a truly breathtaking feat of writing.
Where the Dead Wait, is a perfect eerie mix of Gothic horror, glorious gore, and grievous personal despair, The Dead might have to wait, but this horror book reviewer doesn’t want to have to wait too long to read what Wilkes comes up with next.
Where the Dead Wait by Ally Wilkes
The Terror meets Yellowjackets as a disgraced Arctic explorer sets out on a voyage to track down his former crewmate, only to be confronted by the ghosts of his cannibalistic past. From the Bram Stoker Award nominated author of All the White Spaces. Perfect for fans of Michelle Paver and Stephen Graham Jones.
William Day should be an acclaimed Arctic explorer. But after a failed expedition to find the fabled Open Polar Sea, in which his men only survived by eating their comrades, he returned in disgrace. A cannibal. A murderer.
Thirteen years later, his second-in-command, Jesse Stevens, has gone missing in the same waters. Perhaps this is Day’s chance to restore his tarnished reputation by bringing Stevens – the man who’s haunted his whole life – back home. But when the rescue mission into the frozen wastes becomes an uncanny journey into his own past, Day must face up to the things he’s done.
Aboard ship, Day must also contend with unwanted passengers: a reporter obsessively digging up the truth about the first expedition, and Stevens’s wife, a spiritualist whose séances both fascinate and frighten. Following a trail of cryptic messages, gaunt bodies, and old bones, their search becomes more and more unnerving, as it becomes clear that – for Day – the restless dead are never far behind.