“Future generations will regard (Ramsey Campbell) as the leading horror writer of our generation,” S T Joshi is quoted as saying on the cover of this latest short story collection from “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. It would probably be possible to write an entire review of a Ramsey Campbell book (or certainly a description of the man himself) using laudatory phrases culled from elsewhere, as the man has probably collected a book’s worth of such praise during his five-odd (and some would say very odd) decades writing horror fiction. Indeed, the man has collected so many awards and accolades over the years that perhaps even now someone, somewhere is preparing the Ramsey Campbell Hymnbook so that for future author bios all he will have to do is write ‘see the RCH’.
All of the above is to put into context the fact that a new Ramsey Campbell book is always going to be a cause for celebration. His last novel, The Kind Folk, was one of his best, and his latest novella, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, revisits his Lovecraftian origins in such a delicious and uniquely Campbellian way that one hopes it’s not his last visit to the world of the Deep Ones.
And so we come to Holes for Faces, which collects thirteen stories published since the year 2000 and the title story, which is original to this collection. The volume begins with ‘Passing through Peacehaven’, in which elderly Ray Marsden finds himself trapped on a curiously blackened railway station platform at night. One of the best stories in the book, it gets things off to a crackingly scary start and demonstrates just why Campbell has managed to maintain the respect he’s earned over the years.
‘Peep’ is a tale about the young and the old, the wanted and the unwanted, and the horrible elderly relative that may or may not be haunting you. The ghost here is quite possibly the least of the horrors on offer as Campbell relentlessly presses home the potential hideousness of family life.
‘Getting It Wrong’ first appeared in Stephen Jones’ A Book of Horrors and is Campbell’s version of the conte cruele in which film buff Eric Edgeworth is required to answer movie trivia questions over the telephone, with ugly consequences for one of his work colleagues if he gets an answer wrong.
‘The Room Beyond’, like ‘Passing Through Peacehaven’, offers yet more funereal horrors and fear of the grave, as well as some pages plucked from an especially twisted surgical textbook.
One of the highlights of the book is ‘The Decorations’, which, like the title story, ‘Holes for Faces’, revisits the themes of family, unwanted grandparents, and children affected by things adults sometimes don’t realise they can see and hear, the subtle disquiet they pick up on transformed into nightmarish imagery that forms the deliciously horrifying climax. The story is not without its trace of Campbell humour as well, and the scene of the rooftop Santa Claus breaking free and flying away should evince a chuckle.
‘The Address’ features lost Mr Fraith stumbling onto a hideous version of a school sports day, where the ghosts of bullied children are the spectators and anyone they perceived as their oppressors as the victims. ‘Chucky Comes to Liverpool’ combines true-life horrific historic events with the subsequent media frenzy that led to the Child’s Play series of films being vilified in the British tabloid press. Teenager Robbie is shown the first and fourth in the series by his stoner friend Duncan while his mother is taking part in a crusade to ‘ban all this filth’ for good. Campbell has always been quick to defend this beloved genre of ours from media witch hunts – one column of his in the late lamented Halls of Horror magazine dismissed the Daily Mail’s ‘Ban the Sadist Videos’ craze of the mid-1980s as ‘pernicious nonsense’, and quite right too. ‘Chucky Comes to Liverpool’ manages to combine further sly observations about the anti-horror brigade, as well as managing at points to be reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.
As with any short story collection there are highs and lows in Holes for Faces, but as always with Ramsey Campbell, there’s enough good stuff here, and some outright outstanding stuff, that his latest collection deserves to be in any discerning horror fan’s library.
JOHN LLEWELLYN PROBERT
Publisher: Dark Regions Press
Release date: 13 August 2013
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