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Book Review: The Booking by Ramsey Campbell

Prescribing to his own rule of ‘avoiding what’s been done to death’, The Booking shows Campbell in top form with a strange and creepy tale that lingers long after the last page is turned.

The Booking by Ramsey Campbell

For over fifty years, British author Ramsey Campbell has been scaring readers with his strange and wholly original horror stories. He’s won more awards for his fiction than any other living writer, and still manages to captivate horror fans around the world. The author of such classics as The Parasite, Obsession, Incarnate, Ancient Images, and more recently, The Grin of the Dark, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach, and the forthcoming from Dark Regions Press, The Booking, it seems Campbell is only picking up more steam in his autumn years, and readers can only gain from his bountiful harvest.

Here we find Campbell perhaps where he is most comfortable, choosing the novella presentation, which is the perfect format for delivering an intimate tale of paranoia, obsession, and the weird. Part of Dark Regions Press’ Black Labyrinth book series, The Booking shows that Campbell can roll with the times with a modern, relevant story that packs a strange and visceral punch.

The story concerns Keifer, a young librarian in serious need of a decent job. Unable to find sustainable work, he settles for a job at Books Are Life, a dilapidated bookstore run by the enigmatic Brooks. To say Brooks is rather secretive and extremely paranoid is an understatement. The old man fears technology, so much so that he insists that Keifer disable the camera on his laptop. That isn’t much of an issue, other than when Keifer wants to communicate with his girl Cynthia. As Keifer begins working on the job at hand — creating a website for the bookstore and cataloguing all of the old books — he finds himself becoming more and more isolated from the outside world, and Brooks’ paranoia begins to grip Keifer in a stranglehold.

One of the things that sets Campbell apart from his peers is his ability to make the mundane and ordinary very creepy, and often, downright terrifying.  His characters are always seeing things just at the corner of their eyes, unable to make out exactly what it was that startled them, yet the dread remains, charging the atmosphere, increasing their sensitivity to the supernatural energies surrounding them. Forced to move into the bookstore when his prior arrangements fall through, Keifer finds himself surrounded by old and dusty books. Brooks’ store is not very organised to the naked eye, and stacks of books often line the winding stairway as well as the walls.

“Though Keifer was tired enough to doze, he kept feeling as if someone was about to waken him. More than once he heard a muffled clunk somewhere below him, perhaps the thud of a book replaced on a shelf.”

The atmosphere of intense dread is further amplified when Keifer tries to reach Cynthia with his laptop. With the video feed disabled, what Keifer does see on the screen plays tricks with his mind, only increasing his paranoia to a fever pitch. As books taken off the shelves mysteriously reappear, the walls in the bookstore become narrower, and the dimensions of his living space begin to shift physically in impossible ways, Keifer begins to descend into a madness that is best described as a waking nightmare he cannot wake from.

Campbell’s work is usually quite original, and The Booking is no exception. He knows how to ride the razor’s edge of reality, leaving his characters, and readers, wondering if what they just experienced was really right there in the corner of their eye, or just something going on in their minds. As the dread builds, the effect is dizzying, claustrophobic, and very scary. Prescribing to his own rule of ‘avoiding what’s been done to death’, The Booking shows Campbell in top form with a strange and creepy tale that lingers long after the last page is turned. The Dark Regions Press edition will come in a deluxe hardback with illustrations by Santiago Caruso, available for pre-order July 2016, with the trade and e-book releasing soon after that. This is one book horror fans will definitely want on their bookshelf.

BOB PASTORELLA

Publisher: Dark Regions Press
Paperback (76 pp)
Release Date: 12 July 2016


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