Sweetheart, Sweetheart - Bernard Taylor, Michael Rowe
I have a confession to make, I was never aware of Bernard Taylor, horror author, until recently that was until I was introduced to his 1977 ghost story, Sweetheart Sweetheart which I understand was chosen by Charles L Grant as one of the 100 best horror novels. The 1970’s saw the emergence and growth of King, Koontz and Herbert with their astounding debuts of Carrie, The Rats and Demon Child (Koontz writing as Deanna Dwyer and this was really his first attempt at Gothic style horror) and yet Bernard Taylor in comparison accomplished no such commercial success....and that is unfortunate because Sweetheart, Sweetheart is one of the best written ghost stories (as distinct from horror) I have ever read.

David Warwick lives in New York with his American wife Shelagh and in David’s own words “Her demands matched my own, mostly, and she never made me feel threatened by any sense of inadequacy.” David has a twin brother who lives in Hillingdon, London and he senses that Colin is in grave danger so purely on instinct he makes the long trip to “Gerald’s Hill” cottage in Hillingdon where he receives some unwelcome and sad news...Colin and his wife Helen have both died suddenly and David is the sole beneficiary of the cottage.....”It was beautiful. Far more beautiful than it had appeared in any of the photographs Colin had sent, and for a while I stayed quite still, relishing my first sight of it. It was all so complete, I thought-so right. There was the tall, steep, peg-tiled roof, with the moss growing in the crevices; there were the dormer windows, the stout stone walls, the roses that climbed the walls and grew in profusion over the gate’s arch; there all the colours of the garden that lay around the house and stretched out, away, beyond; and the very lines of the house itself- not one of them precision-straight-all of them showing the personal touch of the hand –the laying on of stone on tile.”

David cannot understand why he is the beneficiary of the cottage? He questions the mysterious death of Helen who it appears fell from the roof trying to rescue Girlie the cat..why should a pregnant woman attempt to carry out such a foolish act? and what is the reason that Colin drove his sports car so recklessly?....just look at the passion and force in this description...”But I would never see him now, He was dead, I said aloud....”DEAD” and wondered at the fragility of our bodies- and why death should be so final...Wounds, blood spilt, holes in flesh, organs torn –adding up to the ceasing of our being—so that we became just things, soulless, rotting flesh, clay....dead...” Who is the mysterious Jean Timpson who is determined to act as David’s cottage keeper and could Alan de Freyne have possibly been Helen’s secret lover?

This is a ghost story written with real style, panache, and pace and still as readable today almost 40 years later as it was on first publication in 1977.At it's heart is the chilly realization that David Warwick's journey is about sexual obsession with a ghostly ethereal being. Bernard Taylor shows his brilliance by expertly setting the scene, introducing wonderful diverse characters, creating the idyllic and then when you the reader feels it is safe....shattering your dreams. There is a review that refers to the “slow-rolling” story, this misses the point entirely as the pace is essential to the unravelling of this wonderful tale and allows for the author to indulge us, shock us with the unexpected and lead us to a terrific conclusion.

A wonderful read a great example of how a horror story should be written and a real treat for anyone like me who has yet to be introduced to the horrific world of Bernard Taylor.