Genre Horror Publisher W M Books Year Published 1999 Review Posted on 7/27/2002 Reviewer Rating
5 out of 10
Widow Walk, by Steve Beai
Reviewed by Paul Kane
If you've read this book, why not
It begins when the body of a child is found in the dense foliage at the back of a children's playground - an area once known as Widow's Walk.
In a quiet town like Park Woods a tragedy like this seldom occurs. In fact the last time something like this happened was a decade ago, and Sheriff Bob Baxter remembers all too well the events that set him on a road to alcoholism and impending divorce. Indeed, the murder of those teens, not to mention the rookie officer he was partnering at the time, Jackie Reid, still haunts Baxter to this day.
Now he has to investigate the death of young Joseph Mayorga, but something just doesn't add up. The Coroner, Bryce Willard, says at first that the boy fell out of a tree house, then concludes he was killed on the ground possibly by a wild animal. As the pressure builds, Baxter begins to think he's cracking up. And seeing the zombie ghost of Jackie Reid on his doorstep, who tells him to "Go back to the woods...", doesn't help matters.
However, when he does return to search the area he finds more than he bargained for, discovering in the process how it came by its rather unique name. The Widows of this Walk are no tearful wives grieving over lost spouses. They are large, nocturnal, and they bite! But to discover just what they are, and what they have to do with the psychopathic killer from ten years ago, I'm afraid you're going to have to read the book for yourself.
I have to admit I'd never heard of Steve Beai before this month, in spite of the fact that he's written over a hundred short stories and articles, and is chairperson of the Literary Outreach Program for the Horror Writers Association -- but I can foresee a time in the future when everyone will know his name.
Widow's Walk is a surprisingly solid, competent horror novel, fast-paced with excellent characterisation. The hero, Baxter, is a flawed protagonist coping with many public and personal problems (he's even sleeping with another woman whilst chasing after his estranged wife): making a change from the usual assured breed. The cynical Coroner is part Quincy, part Mike Hammer ("You're a dedicated public servant," says Baxter sarcastically when he finds out the man was at home eating supper instead of visiting the crime scene. Willard replies smartly: "The public I serve are all dead, Bob."). Then there's the obligatory TV reporter vying for an anchor shot, his name a running joke: 'This is the news with Paul Crews', a mysterious lawman from out of town called Warner, and a viscous drugged-up villain in the shape of Alvy Morehouse, by the end a personification of pure evil itself.
Although Beai does use standard horror motifs, such as monsters, spirits and serial killers, the twist here is in the way he combines them - making them dovetail nicely in the exciting all-action climax, which takes place beneath Widow's Walk. And the handful of typesetting mistakes can hardly detract from his easy, naturalistic style, reminiscent of early King or Laymon. Nor can it inhibit his attention to detail, his marvellous descriptions and his enjoyable turns of phrase (he calls the toll at Broadway Bridge, which connects Park Woods to the outside world "An offering to the steel God bridging the gap between innocence and abandon.").
I really enjoyed this offering from a new voice in the field (well, new to me at any rate). Beai deserves to go on and make it big one day. And judging from the evidence in this current novel, he looks like he's going to walk it.