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A Must for Horror Fans
I'm amazed this may be this book's first review here. More so, I'm amazed that many fellow Americans appear unawares of "Britain's most respected living horror writer," Ramsey Campbell (Oxford Co. to Eng. Lit). Perhaps he's overshadowed by best-sellers like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Dan Simmons, or even other UK writers like Clive Barker or Neil Gaiman (I do enjoy them, too). Or perhaps the 'horror' genre itself leaves a bad taste for most mainstream audiences; in a field plagued with too many unintelligent gross-outs, or bad quality, "scary" films- it's easy to dismiss horror's integrity altogether. Yet Campbell's decade-spanning canon of work exemplifies how the scary tale can be done correctly & effectively- being both absurdly comical and terrifyingly tragic- entertaining and dreadful.
Campbell's newest book, The Creatures of the Pool, is one of his best and most frightening. It mixes a dazzling display of historical research & imagination- from Liverpool's urban legends, conspiracy theories, strange reports- all concocting into a succinct, nightmarish journey. The story follows a Liverpool tour-guider, specializing in the city's most gruesome sites & stories: from the mysteries & debates over Jack the Ripper, to the frog-like phenomena of Springheel Jack. Soon we're driven deep down to everything that 'Creatures of the Pool' suggests- but in the most elegant, imaginative, suggestive way. There are no overt, on-the-nose descriptions of gore; instead the terror lurks, present and suggested- our fears rising from their tombs and chasms of Liverpool's amphibious, monstrous heritage.
What happens when our protagonist's father unearths evidence of inhuman life, secretly buried & living underground? Well, I won't give away any of the book's exciting twists or reversals, but I will say it's one of Campbell's most gripping, focused, and engaging works. We're never bored with wondering where the story could go; there are too many maddening, over-arching problems and super-objectives for our protagonist to solve (terrifyingly written in a first person we can't help but identify with).
Campbell gives horror a flavor of intelligent integrity by provoking our imagination to paint the paranoia, dread, and madness from our own personal crypt of imagery. One of Campbell's strongest qualities comes from his more 'insane' or 'psychotic' characters; their dialogue is written so convincingly & believably mad that it's both funny and scary. When juxtaposed by more 'loving' or 'rational' characters' perspectives, the madness soon engulfs the reader like a nightmare- forcing us to confront with suspicion all of our assumed realities, truths, and biases, with our doubts, fantasies, illusions, and hallucinations. The maelstrom journey of Creates of the Pool succeeds with what all good horror aims to do: terrify.
I'm only disappointed with the US edition's bland cover. It doesn't encapsulate the exciting nightmare of the story at all. We can't help judge some books by their cover, and with a title like "Creatures of the Pool," we can't help but imagine something silly or predictable with a picture of a purple-tinted marsh & moon. Where's the stalking, monstrous shapes or figures- the paranoid doubt and fear for our safety? I can only promise both the prose and story entertain much more.
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