Cover of Darkness by Sian Ann Bessey
Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
Cover of Darkness catches the reader’s attention from the first glimpse of the striking cover, featuring a lighthouse along the rocky Welsh coastline where the author Sian (pronounced Shawn) Ann Bessey grew up. From there, what begins as a peaceful vacation for two American teachers turns into mystery, intrigue, and a bit of romance. A story that could be just another travel/mystery turns into a delightful, sometimes tense, tale as Sister Bessey uses her first-hand knowledge of Wales to add depth and realism to the book.
The story opens with two school teachers from Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming starting their day with breakfast on the patio of a hotel in the small coastal village of Menai Bridge on the North Shore of Wales. The teachers, Megan Harmer who teaches history and her friend, art teacher, Fran Brown, are cramming all the history and scenery possible into a three week vacation. After ten days of frantic sight-seeing, they take a planned break in Wales to relax and each do her own thing for a few days. Fran will paint and Megan will visit the ancient castles in the area.
Two other Americans are also staying at the hotel, but not together. Both are young, attractive men who draw the women’s attention and are both somewhat mysterious. Joe Marks doesn’t make a good impression to begin with, and neither girl is comfortable around him until Megan meets up with him on one of her sight-seeing tours, where she discovers he is extremely interested in a large power boat that seems unfamiliar with the treacherous water and rocky shore. Richard Garrett, the other American, seems more personable and becomes acquainted with Fran while Megan is away visiting one of the castles in the area. On Megan’s return, she introduces the two.
Sister Bessey fills in details about the Welsh countryside, landmarks, and history as the two women’s lives become entangled with the compelling motives driving the two men. One man is intent on delivering contraband weapons to Irish rebels, while the other is equally intent on stopping him and learning the identity of his accomplices. The differences that have divided Ireland and the continuing warfare that separates the various factions play a role in the intrigue the young women stumble into. Circumstances throw Megan into a situation where she must battle not only evil men but the sea for her life. From being stranded on a small island to a nightmare experience on a burning boat floating on the Menai Straight, which separates Wales from Ireland, her faith is tested in more than one way. Her physical survival depends on faith and using her wits, and her emotional survival is tried as she faces the growing suspicion that she’s losing her heart to a man who doesn’t share her testimony of the gospel.
Once the vacation adventure ends and the teachers return to the States, the story shifts gears to become a conversion story and the romantic angle receives more prominence.
Bessey’s style is unusual in that she writes an action-packed story, yet manages to convey a sense of innocense in her heroine and her friend. There’s an element of formality to her writing, too, and she commands a rich vocabulary, at times revealing her European roots with her word choices such as, “limbs” instead of “arms and legs”, en route instead of “on her way,” “parking facility” in place of “parking lot,” “chocolate drops,” “fecund hillside displayed its verdant offspring,” and “vertiginous view.” Though the style is fairly formal, it is far from stuffy. In fact there’s a great sense of youthful vitality to the story. Bessey uses description well to give the reader a real sense of place without bogging down the story, and if her word choices occasionally catch her American readers by surprise, that only adds to the story’s charm rather than detracts.
Cover of Darkness presents some interesting contrasts and a depth of realism that probably wouldn’t exist in the story if the author had only visited Wales. First, the story is written from an American girl’s point of view by a woman who lived most of her life in the country her young heroine is only visiting. Second, her observations and knowledge of the area exceed what a mere visitor would perhaps notice, yet provide authenticity. Bessey also addresses the IRA terrorist threat with a knowledge and the emotions of one who grew up with only a narrow strip of ocean separating her home from Ireland and the turbulence there.
With less than two weeks of their vacation left when Megan and Fran meet the two mysterious American men, there isn’t much time for missionary lessons or falling in love, but I still would have liked to see the conversion process and the romance develop more as the intrigue progresses instead of following after. Though both are hinted at, they don’t go far until after the crisis situation and the vacation end.
Sian Ann Bessey is a relatively new writer; this is only her second book, but I believe readers will enjoy her style and be intrigued by her grasp of language and the picture she paints of a land rich in history and natural beauty. Members of the Church will appreciate the author’s testimony of the gospel which shines steadily through the faith and commitment of her leading characters. Cover of Darkness is well worth reading.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.