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Ramsey Campbell Book Reviews

Review of 'The Searching Dead' by Ramsey Campbell
PS Publishing, 2017 - Review by Steve Dillon

The Searching Dead is the first part of a trilogy which will ultimately form The Three Births of Daoloth. Despite being a first-parter, it is actually a great read in its own right, and I felt the ending was suitably conclusive as a standalone, so I wouldn't hold back on reading this now rather than waiting for the next book. Although it doesn't end on a cliff-hanger, which personally I find annoying at times, the ending leaves unanswered questions that will doubtless be explored in future books in the series. Not least of these will involve Daoloth itself, the render of the veils, which is barely mentioned in the first book, although there are subtle hints peppered throughout the first part of this trilogy...

The style at times is reminiscent of previous generations of writers, referring as it does to a dark tome of arcane knowledge which is suitably extracted in the latter part of the story. And although this series builds on the Lovecraftian mythos from where Campbell's roots firmly sprout, that is not to say it is Lovecraftian in tone, for the language is modern and far from baroque or florid. Nor is it overly-peppered with the trademark Campbell-isms which any of his regular readers will doubtless recognise, although there are enough to keep us grinning darkly as we race through the story.

Set in the early 1950s and written largely as the reminiscences of a schoolboy on the threshold of his own journey to maturity, The Searching Dead is far from a 'coming of age' story. Although not printed as such, the narrative hints at times that it may be transcribed from our protagonist's (Dominic Sheldrake) diary in the manner of Adrian Mole, and at others it becomes more of a Biggles-style adventure that the Tremendous Three (Dominic, Jim and Roberta aka Bobby) find themselves entangled in. Among the main characters is an ominously stooping schoolteacher who talks to his young offspring as though she is an adult, and who responds likewise, a woman whose misguided spiritualist beliefs and faith have led her to regret something she'd only recently longed and wished for, the protagonists' families who are eager to keep the youngsters away from adventures, but who themselves become drawn into it, and the usual politics of a post-war British city that abounds with religious, political and family concerns.

To my mind, if Enid Blyton had worked alongside the likes of HP Lovecraft or Brian Lumley (especially his Necroscope series), then this is the resultant story, and it works extremely well, although what Sheldrake witnessed on a school trip to France is hardly something the Famous Five would have encountered.

The backdrop for the story, as with many of Campbell's stories, is one which he is intimately familiar with. There is a street party for Queen Elizabeth's Coronation, trips to the cinema accompanied by an usherette wielding a flashlight (torch) and bus rides through Liverpool's post-war, bombed-out landscape that has for the most parts now perished to be replaced with a new growth of commerce and urban sprawl.

To summarise, although returning to Lovecraftian-style cosmic horror, the story demonstrates to me a new direction for Campbell in some ways as his various favourite topics, writing styles and techniques become blended to become a new and easily consumable format which newcomers to Campbell will doubtless enjoy. I eagerly await the second and third in the trilogy!

Edition reviewed: ISBN: 978-1-786360-30-4. 271 pages, hardback edition with dustjacket cover.

Review of 'The Overnight' by Ramsey Campbell
PS Publishing, 2004 - Review by Steve Dillon

I read The Overnight on a recent trip to the UK from Australia, and I had to read it over several nights, despite being enthralled and engulfed by the gradual creeping fog that gradually swamps our protagonists in the story.

Set in a bookshop in a newly-built commercial estate in the North of England, and managed by a successful (American) company-man, the story is written as only Ramsey Campbell is able. The menace is hinted at; it lurks; it creeps over the threshold of the bookstore like the fog which has surrounded it. There are personality conflicts among the staff, a subtle sense of ‘us and them’ caused by the fact that the manager is ‘foreign,’ and more pointedly by the inclusion of characters with differing life-styles and views. One is gay, another is homophobic; one is keen to impress, another is happy to get away with the bare minimum, and so on.

A key skill of Ramsey Campbell’s is to entice the reader into an everyday scene (much like M.R. James, one of Campbell’s literary forebears,) and to introduce shadow-plays and human foibles in such a way that we’re not immediately certain whether the strange goings-on are substantial, or the result of some psychological interpretation brought on by fatigue, stress, or psychiatric illness, or whether indeed there are supernatural forces at work, threatening to assault us from some other place into our everyday humdrum lives. Do the lines on the pages truly become blurred when one of our lead characters fumbles to read them, or is this a throwback to the days when he was rendered incapable of reading due to stress and bullying? If so, why has that manifestation come back to haunt him now, and what can he do about it? Likewise, the books that are scattered on the floor or rearranged to the level of chaos could be the result of some impish schoolchildren with a dislike for literature, or could this equally be a manifestation of the destructive goal of some mini-mud-goblin?

Besides the main characters, Campbell has included a couple of characters who seem intent to pull up a soft-chair and watch as the events in the bookstore unfold… I found this pair both humorous and intriguing enough to wonder if they represented Mr. Campbell and the reader, enthralled yet incapable or unwilling to change the way the various scenes are acted out. And in the end, they remained an enigma, for which I’m personally grateful, as not all stories need a definite conclusion in my mind.

One other point, which I also made at a recent reading by Ramsey Campbell and Pete Crowther, I believe this story is one of the most suitable candidates for a Ramsey Campbell movie, of which there have been none so far made, at least not in English. For me, it has all the right elements: atmosphere, bizarre plot, psychological tension between characters, intrigue, suspense and action.

In conclusion, expect this ‘overnight’ shift in the bookstore to forever dwell in the midst of your thoughts should you ever find yourself in a bookstore at night, or working an overnight shift of your own.

"Ramsey Campbell's work has been an ongoing inspiration to me since I met him in 1987 at the launch of Clive Barker's Weaveworld. Ramsey has been a continued supporter of my work at Oz Horror Con over the years. It was intended that Ramsey be our guest of honour at Oz Horror Con in 2013, but fate transpired against that happening. I was finally able to meet Ramsey again 30 years after our first meeting in May 2017 at an author reading in Hull, along with Jenny, and the organisers and people behind PS Publishing, Pete and Nicky Crowther, and what lovely people they all are!

"I have been fortunate enough to publish reprints of three of Ramsey's short stories - 'Again' in 'The Refuge Collection, Heaven to Some!;' 'The Address' in 'Between the Tracks - Tales from the Ghost Train;' and 'The Cellars' in the forthcoming anthology 'Below the Stairs - Tales from the Cellar,' and I hope to be able to print many more of Ramsey's short stories in the future!"

- Steve Dillon, Oz Horror Con Director.