In the well-known King town of Castle Rock Scott Carey is inexplicably losing weight and it’s happening unnaturally fast. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the author is covering ground he already explored in the book Thinner, which was released under the Richard Bachman pen name, but there are two crucial differences; Scott is not getting thinner, just lighter, and this is far from the horror story of that earlier book as it’s possible to get. However, while it doesn’t have his usual scares it is once more populated with wonderfully developed characters and the author’s seemingly effortless folksy prose style.
What King delivers in Elevation is a whimsical, uplifting novella that has more in common with the work of Mitch Albom than Clive Barker. You see, whilst Scott is losing the pounds by the day his outward appearance remains the same, so he doesn’t have to explain his situation to anyone he doesn’t want to, and inwardly he feels great. The only wrinkle in his life when we meet him is his awkward relationship with his married neighbours Deidre McComb and Missy Donaldson. They’ve gotten off on the wrong foot over the conduct of their dogs, and even though Missy seems friendly enough when Scott attempts to reconcile their differences, Deidre remains frosty. It soon becomes apparent that there is more to their struggles than a neighbourly dispute; the restaurant they own is struggling, and it has more to do with reaction to their lifestyle than their gastronomic expertise. Scott, spurred on in part by the knowledge that his days are numbered if his weight-loss continues, sets about bringing the town of Castle Rock together behind its newest restaurateurs.
There seems little doubt that this small book, from one of the most recognisable authors in the world, is going to divide opinion. It’s clearly a response to the current political environment in the World in general and the US in particular. If the author’s twitter feed is any indication there are a fair few of his fans who’d rather he kept out of politics and will no doubt grace the likes of Amazon and Goodreads with less than positive reviews littered with the usual yawn-some phrases such as SJWs, Snowflakes and Libtards. Hopefully though, there will also be plenty of people who see it as the antidote to the grimness of reality it is clearly intended to be with its warm message of inclusivity and community spirit. Elevation is unlikely to make any lists of the author’s best works but it’s just what readers need right now, so delve in and treat yourself to a bit of a warm glow in these cold, troubling times. It will raise you up.
“I would like to welcome the world to The Die-Fi Experiment. Please join us in the fun that is the deterioration of the world by means of social media.”
The Die-Fi Experiment, a brutal glimpse into the ever changing morals of our modern society. The pitiful truth of the time we live in, a world where we upload a video of someone being assaulted in the street to Instagram with a snappy hash-tag rather than help them. Where we go out for dinner and spend the entire time posting pictures of our meals all the while trolling for likes and comments. Seeking the validation from faceless friends, and judging our place in society by how many comments or re-tweets we receive.
It’s a very sad time for the human race. We have lost ourselves to the digital world. We are helpless without a WiFi connection.
I personally loved this novelette from M. R. Tapia, it really hit chords with me over our obsessions with our iphone and the likes (yes – I need my phone; I am one who gets a bit anxious if I don’t have it with me. I hate that about myself). It really reflects well the global fixation with viewing life through a 7 inch screen, as well as our backwards need to comment on the misery of others rather than to help. The phrase - “A congregation of faceless hairdos. Mohawks and bowl cuts. Tapers and sumo buns. Bald Heads and sweeping comb-overs. Lots of them nodding in approval. Receiving their own acceptance by sharing this live on their own Facebook and Instagram and Twitter accounts.” - really summed this up.
The Die-Fi experiment is quite a brutal experiment, a live streaming of torture and murder with tones of Saw and Hostel. The coup de grâce being that the winner receives a brand new iphone X – seriously though, people kill for less these days.
I loved this, the relevance to our brutal world really spoke to me and I feel like it has given me a nudge to maybe leave the phone at home sometimes. To go out and enjoy the world, see some sights through my own eyeballs while I still have them, and rather that tweet it, tell someone in person.
Definitely a must read...
Lesley-Ann (Housewife of Horror)
The life of a horror book reviewer can be a strange one… Who in their right mind begins reading a seventeen story Christmas themed anthology in April? Only a reviewer, and although I was not full of the joys of Christmas I quickly found myself warming to the twisted humour in this collection. I guarantee this particular Christmas stocking has some real gems lurking amongst the holly and mistletoe. The presents easily outweigh the turkeys, and I particularly enjoyed the darker inclusions which skewered the jolliness and clichés connected to the festive season. Christopher Golden edited the anthology and I wonder how he went about obtaining his contributions? Were they written to order? Was he a Santa carefully filling his sack with literary gifts? Did the enigmatic Josh Malerman pull his twisted tale out of the family chimney or did he write it specifically for this collection? We’ll probably never know. Perhaps many of these very talented authors just happened to have an appropriately ‘themed’ story tucked away in the recesses of their laptop for a project just like this? It would not surprise me at all.
There are too many stories for me to mention all by name, so I’m going to concentrate on my favourites.
Sarah Pinborough brings the curtain down on the book on a real high note and with the longest story by some distance, the rather excellent “The Hangman’s Bride”. This is not strictly a Christmas story, but is loaded with good old-fashioned seasonable spirit. It’s more a tale, in the style of MR James, to be told around the fireplace as was common in the Victorian and Edwardian days and is ultimately a clever ghost story with a sly nod to a very famous Japanese horror film. In this chilly, story within a story, a little orphaned boy is sent to a large house to clean the chimneys, his master has also told him he must also locate things to steal. But soon he feels a presence in the house and is sucked into a tragic supernatural mystery which is full of brooding atmosphere and family secrets. I’m a huge fan of Pinborough’s horror and YA fiction, “The Death House” being one of the finest YA novels of the last decade. It’s time to forget adult thrillers and return to YA Sarah!
Scott Smith’s “Christmas in Barcelona” starts out as a painfully funny tale but concludes with a genuinely shocking ending which will have you drawing breath in shock. An American couple visit Barcelona for Christmas with their young baby, hoping to rekindle the magic of the carefree travelling they did earlier in their relationship. Once they arrive everything goes wrong and if you’ve travelled with small kids you’ll find it excruciatingly realistic. All the shops are closed, the hotel is rubbish and they begin to wish they stayed at home. However, when the man is out trying to locate food he buys a toy from a street seller, which you just know he is going to regret. Superb stuff.
Sarah Lotz’s “Not Just For Christmas” was another wickedly funny entry which led to some sniggering and had me thinking about a toy craze a few years back. My wife and I were amongst the many suckers who spent £100+ on buying their kid an owl-like ‘Furby’ which can be connected to your phone and various online apps. In this story, extremely, lifelike robots (and way more expensive than my Furby) called ‘Gens’ are given as presents and used as pets and friends to bored kids. They also cost a small fortune. However, before long the toys begin to glitch and their software gets hacked, and there are funny scenes when the toy user taps into the buyer’s internet history, filthy porn, and all. A hoot and scarily realistic with the way technology is currently heading. You’d be better sticking to Furbys.
Thomas E. Sniegoski’s “Love Me” was another entertaining entry with particularly foul little creatures which are very difficult to ditch once they get their hooks (quite literally) into you. You may well think of Joe Dante’s classic “Gremlins” when reading this unpleasant little tale, but without the humour, as the critters in this tale are pretty yucky. Having your other half coo “love me” will never be the same after reading this story. And where would Christmas be without a cult to keep us all entertained? Josh Malerman’s back-catalogue of short stories continues to impress with “Tenets” the tale of a Christmas party where a guest brings an ex-member of a cult along to liven proceedings up a little. It would have been safer to bring a bottle.
Another of my personal favourites was “Good Deeds” by Jeff Strand who provides us with a bizarre take on the famous tune “Christmas Shoes” which was also very funny in a way which nastily reverses the traditional festive spirit. The morale of the story is if you’re ever overcome by holiday spirit DO NOT write a song about it. The guy in this tale is inspired to do so after helping a poor kid buy shoes for his dying mother. He calls the song “A Precious Young Child’s Wish For His Terminally Ill Mother to Have New Shoes to Die In, and How I Granted That Wish One Magical Christmas Eve” which has to be the dumbest name for a song ever. Before long the story is connected to all sorts of unsavoury stuff including suicides and murder. That’s the Christmas spirit you’re after! Bing Crosby eat your heart out.
There are many other jolly entries in the collection, a few of which I will mention briefly. Christopher Golden’s “It’s a Wonderful Knife” has a stab at the most famous of all Christmas films, about the stabbing on set, and the curse that follows. James Moore provides us all with a cautionary tale “Mistletoe and Holly” in which there is serious blowback for firstly stealing a sister’s boyfriend and then marrying him. Finally, there is John McIlveen’s “Yankee Swap” which has more than a whiff of the horror franchise “Saw” about it. It’s an unpleasant tale of a group of individuals who end up in a room and are forced to do nasty things to each other. Sound familiar? But it’s fun and darkly unpleasant with a dude dressed up as an elf instead of Jigsaw.
The remainder of the gifts to be unwrapped are “Absinthe and Angels” (Kelley Armstrong), “Fresh as the Fallen Snow” (Seanan McGuire), “Snake’s Tail” (Sarah Langan), “The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel” (Joe Lansdale), “Farrow Street” (Elizabeth Hand), “Doctor Velocity” (Jonathan Maberry), “Honor Thy Mother” (Angela Slatter), “Home” (Tim Lebbon) and “Hiking Through” (Michael Koryta). As you can see there is a massive range of stories on offer, from some of the biggest and respected names in horror. I’m sure many will find their own personal favourite amongst this bunch, even if I did not.
There are so many anthologies, many of which are themed, around these days it is very difficult to either keep track of them all or get excited about them. However, “Hark! The Herald Angels Scream!” is full of delicious and off-colour presents which are well worth unwrapping, or gifting to a horror loving friend. It’s also one if those books which is probably best enjoyed by dipping in and out of, over the Christmas period of course, rather than being read from beginning to end. Just don’t read it in April.
You are on the highway leading out of Boulder, heading west to California, and on the side of the road you see a teenager hitchhiking. You pull up next to him and that’s when you realize his face has no skin or muscle, it’s just a skull. For most people the reaction would be to scream and hit the gas. But in Chad Lutzke’s Skullface Boy the driver would offer him a ride and they’d end up having a moment. These interactions between hitchhiker and driver form a strange and wonderful trip that is some of the best storytelling you’ll find this year.
Let’s dive right into the strangest thing about this book: the skullface of Levi. It’s exactly what it sounds like. In Levi’s words, “It sticks out in a crowd and is whiter than an Irishman’s ass. Bone White.”
The questions you might have, like how does he eat? Or how does he exist? Never get addressed, and I don’t think we need it. Per Levi: “It’s who I am. You don’t like it, don’t look at it.”
It becomes apparent that we are not to focus on why Levi has a skullface. No one calls the police, there isn’t a group of scientists hunting him down to run tests. Instead, Lutzke uses it as a test for the characters that Levi runs into. Some of these characters taunt him or assault him. Others look past it to see the smart, interesting boy behind the bone. You could see it as a metaphor for race, sex, religion, or a myriad other reasons people judge others. But you could also see it as a unique way to tell a coming of age road trip story, adding fuel to the interactions someone might find while hitchhiking.
The character of Levi is not your typical teenage boy. At times he appears wiser than his age, doling out advice to those he meets. Then there are the times that he is naive. Such as the time he helped an old man with a yard sale, never wondering why the man is selling everything until the family that owns the house shows up. These mistakes make him more endearing, your heart is with him every step he takes, every car he hops into. You feel his hunger pains and the beating he takes at the hands of some douchey frat boys.
Through everything he is trying his best. When someone offers him a ride or helps him, he repays the favor, maybe working all day in a gas station, or listening to the last words of an old man. By the end of the book Levi will have wormed his way into your heart.
Lutzke gives us the good, bad and weird of humanity, letting us decide who falls into each bucket. A truck driver teaches him the ways of Las Vegas and junk food. A man and his two girlfriends teach Levi that women don’t need to settle to feel loved. A dancer gives him a new Kiss t-shirt and encourages him to keep on his path. Levi steps into their lives for a little while and no one is the same when he moves on.
As we go on this adventure with Levi we start to put together that this is happening in the 1980’s. Lutzke is able to expertly drop in hints and background items that he never has to call it out. It’s the work of a great storyteller to be able to ease you into time and place simply with a few words.
Lutzke recently retweeted a fan on Twitter: “This guy really says a lot with a little, ya know what I mean?!” (@nightrider81) After reading Skullface Boy I completely agree. It’s a short book, the chapters read fast, but damn if this is not a powerful story. The climax of Levi’s tale will leave you misty eyed and empowered to see the good in everyone. This will be a book that spreads like wildfire, passed around to family and friends, something that sticks with the reader long after they are finished.
After however many years of watching movies or television or all the books I’ve read, it’s encouraging to me that I can still pick up a book and find something that feels totally unique and different from anything that I’ve seen before it. That while there may be common elements and plot devices and so forth, it all manages to be woven together in a way that is fresh and exciting.
My sole experience with Tim Lebbon was with the Alien novel he wrote, several years ago. It was a book I definitely enjoyed it and I took note of the name as one I would need to pay more attention to. I clearly didn’t do a very good job holding to that promise so when I saw this book on the list of possibilities to review, I jumped on it.
The Folded Land is a sequel to Lebbon’s book, Relics. And while the story for the most part functions on its own, I would strongly suggest giving the first book a read as well as it lays much of the emotional groundwork that this novel stands on.
Essentially, in Relics, Lebbon established a character who is abruptly pulled into an underground society of mythological creatures leading a secret existence. These creatures are hunted by collectors, who are after various body parts as a morbid sort of collectible. After being sucked into a complicated conflict where allies become enemies and then back to being allies, we are left with them on a precipice, having to flee their lives and everything in it.
As Folded Land picks up, a war is now brewing between society and the creatures who are no longer content to merely exist in the shadows. The main character, Angela, has the horror of seeing her niece kidnapped, drawn into this situation as a possible playing piece, although for what reason, Angela has no way of understanding.
What I found most striking about Relics and what I was happy to see carried into the second book is the level of imagination present in this universe. It’s so difficult to make a world that weaves in and out of magic and fantasy and make it credible and believable. What I loved was how Lebbon managed to go off on flights of visual and creative explosions, not unlike someone like Neal Gaiman, but unlike the books of his that I have read, Lebbon manages to take the fantastic and still reel it into a narrative that feels tight and controlled. It’s one thing to blow my imagination away but leave me scratching my head and wondering what’s going on. What Lebbon has done is put down the same mind-blowing content but still leaving me feeling grounded in the story, not stuck on the ground as the narrative floats away from me on the wind.
The Folded Land succeeds in my opinion because it takes a sequel and steers it down various paths that may be more challenging but for the reader definitely pays off. This isn’t a typical sequel where we just get more action featuring the same characters. What we have is a book that expands and adds onto the scope of the first book.
This isn’t just about giving us more of the same, it’s about giving us more stuff that’s different and just as great. I also appreciated the notion of a sequel in which we find out that things don’t always necessarily end up going well for our heroes, just because the credits roll and the music swells up around us.
The main characters from Relics are already on the run because of their involvement in an incident involving numerous high-profile murders. And now, with a threat to a niece, they are pulled in yet another direction, running from the authorities that are seeking them out as well as hunting down the enemy which has threatened someone close to them.
Lebbon writes some seriously exciting material and the second chapter specifically was possibly one of the more gripping sequences I’ve read in some time. As a parent, it was heart-breaking and as a reader, it put the hooks of the story firmly planted in my gut.
The book is a multi-layered sequence of pursuits and reveals. And while it isn’t really clear until the latter parts of the book what’s going on, at no point did I lose faith that eventually things would be sorted in good form. The action is deftly executed, and the pacing is superb. And for as grand of a scale as the book took when compared to the first, it all built up to an ending point that managed somehow to gain even more scope and an even larger scale. If this is a trilogy in the making, as I assume it is, this book did exactly what the second part should, namely it amped me up and had me already clamoring for the third.
I don’t always look for deeper meaning to the books I read but I was fascinated by the phenomenon of “deniers” in this book, which are essentially characters that are actually mythological creatures but have forgotten that fact. They are, in fact, completely convinced that they are human.
I am not suggesting that Lebbon would be making such a roundabout political point with this. Let’s just say that as I’m reading it, steeped within one of the worst, most contentious period of time that I have lived through, it was an aspect that I reacted to. The notion of an entire group of people, walking around with a complete unawareness of their true nature. I know I’m grabbing at tiny straws with that, but it was a point that spoke to me in particular, that so many people in the world log in to social media, go about the sharing and the outrage because that’s what we’re supposed to do but maybe the one thing we’re losing more than anything else is ourselves. Are the deniers in this book who are reintroduced to their true natures being helped? Or are they being unfairly changed and taken away from lives they were already leading? I’m not sure. All I know is that our society is suffering a serious identity crisis, with people acting more like homogenized “product” than individuals and reading this book made me feel that more acutely than ever.
Regardless of the legitimacy of that specific point, this is a fantastic book that I found to be top rate entertainment and that made me think, one of the stronger titles I have read this year. Give it a spin and see how you feel about it.
In his debut collection, Calvin Demmer presents us with twenty-three unique short stories that are a pleasure to read. If you are a fan of dark short stories, read The Sea Was a Fair Master. The stories were fairly short and easy to read, but had just the right amount of detail to give the reader a clear (and creepy) image of something unique.
The stories within the collection cover a wide array of topics or themes, so it’s possible there is something in the collection for anyone. From androids to ghosts to cold-hearted killers, you’re sure to find something appealing whether you like stories that are rooted in fantasy or rooted in day-to-day life. I wouldn’t say any of them were very detailed in the gore, but the plots themselves were macabre. I only say that because some people like detailed gore and some people do not (I appreciate either approach) but the plots were creepy enough for the imaginative to fill in the details.
I think that my favorite stories were “Underneath,” “Hangman,” “Graves,” and “Noisy Neighbors.” “Underneath” contains a horrific discovery by some homeowners as they dig a grave for a deceased pet, and it’s pretty interesting how it was handled. As I read “Hangman” I thought to myself that this would make an awesome scary movie. In it a nighttime security guard discovers a secret class called Extreme English and it makes you wonder how long that class has been in session. “Graves” was one of those heartbreaking ghost stories I like so well because they’re just dark and sad. And with “Noisy Neighbors” I like how the initial setup of the story made me think the character was going to do one bad thing, only to find out he was in the middle of a totally unexpected other bad thing.
There were other stories in there that I really enjoyed because they had a clever ending or because they had a dark and sad atmosphere but the ones above were my favorites.
There were a couple that were well-written but didn’t give me the same thrill as the others. For me that was “The Peeper,” “The One,” and “Trashcan Sam.” Nothing wrong with them, just not for me.
I really enjoyed reading this collection and some of the stories are sure to stick with me well beyond the read.
When this book became available for review I was surprised to discover that it is Thana Niveau’s first published novel. The reason for being surprised is that Thana is so well known and respected in the horror community that I assumed she was already a best-selling novelist. It’s an easy assumption to have made, for me at least, as I regularly see published anthologies/magazines within which she has stories, such as in the more discerning publications: Black Static, Shock Totem and Interzone to name very few, and have seen advertising for her short story collections ‘Octoberland’ and ‘Unquiet Waters’ as well as her omnipresence in the independent horror scene. Being already familiar with many of her short works I couldn’t wait to see what she would do with the traditional ‘Haunted House’ story. However, ‘The House of Frozen Screams’ isn’t one, although it does take a lot of cues from traditional tales it manages to achieve something quite different in horror writing as it presents a story with three distinct motifs throughout which work together. Anyone familiar with haunted house books and films will have come across the ‘cruel master of the house’, the ‘cries of a phantom baby’, the ‘possession/obsession tearing a relationship apart’ and even the malevolence of the building itself.
A simplification would be along the lines of first there was a gate, then there was a house, then there was a fire. The gate is ancient, where it leads to is a mystery which is solved at the end, I’ll say no more about that as it’s a spoiler, but it’s all very cleverly thought out and puts everything into perspective. The house, well that’s something which in essence we have known the likes of before in ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, ‘Rose Red’ and loads of others which feature a mansion-like property in a poor state of repair which is haunted by the type of ‘Master of all he surveys’ guy who stares at you from paintings like in Ghostbusters 2. He’s sadistic to the Nth degree and doesn’t have much else going for him except that. This time he’s not a painting though, he’s a sculptural head extruded from the masonry inside of the building, or at least that’s how I read it. Carson is not all he seems though, and everything gets properly explained, giving him much more depth than is usual for the type of character.
The aforementioned gate is introduced early but nothing much is made of it, as for the fire, well that’s introduced early on for clarity as it is instrumental in several ways. It is the reason that the property is affordable, as half of what would have been a sprawling mansion was reduced to rubble in a fire and was never rebuilt. It’s also a case that there’re allusions of a phantom continuation of the property beyond bricked up doors which lead nowhere. This is actually something I found a little disappointing about the book as the phantom side of the house could have been a far more prominent ‘character’ than it was.
Characterisation is fully fleshed out; with the main character Liz taking up the majority of the book, which is understandable given the storyline, yet I did feel as if her role could have been pared back somewhat to build up other characters whose parts, although important, were underplayed. For me there was a standout character, albeit for the wrong reasons, in Carson, the creator/master of the house. He’s a tad one-dimensional, coming across more as a pantomime villain with no redeeming features at all. There’s a good reason for it, but it would still have been better to my way of thinking if he’d have had something good about him as with Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dracula, he was an evil sonofabitch but behind it all was grief as a pure motive for his actions.
Regarding the pace, Thana Niveau’s talent for the short form shines through as this is an amalgamation of three story threads, each distinct in its own right. The book started off a little slow, with a few subtle hints at what was to come, which after a couple of chapters left me wondering if it was going to be tedious should it sustain the initial pedestrian pace. However I needn’t have been concerned as it soon picked up and when it did it was like a sledgehammer to the face. The previous sedate ‘love story’ for want of a better description suddenly lurched into such brutality that I actually winced, and I can’t recall the last time a book made me do that. When it got going it didn’t maintain the pace, instead it had something of a feel of the three separate storylines being independently written and then merged together, which may seem like a bad thing, but in this case, assuming it to be deliberate, I think it’s actually a clever move. It still maintains a ‘rollercoaster’ method, but does so in a much more jarring way which fits the material better, making it for the most part unpredictable.
If you are anything like me you actually see a movie in your head when you are reading, and the visuals of The House of Frozen Screams are ‘Cinemascope’ stunning. The descriptions are crystal clear without being overstated and the imagery is cinematic in the ‘Fall of the House of Usher’ mould with a very similar Gothic atmosphere generated in the Carson scenes, and the modern scenes being more reminiscent of the contemporary setting Hammer Horrors. There’s enough here to make anyone squirm with the unrelenting graphic descriptions in the ‘Wrath James White’ camp and a variety of semi-surreal visuals liberally spilling gore on the pages while maintaining a practical reality by not going too far over the top.
It reminded me very much of ‘An American Werewolf in London’, which may sound strange as there are no werewolves involved in The House of Frozen Screams, but bear with me on this: For me ‘American Werewolf’ is about as good as it gets, it has excellent characterisation with no redundancies or fillers, the various locations were carefully plotted to be ideally suited to the actions and the pacing gave adequate breathing space between the horrors to come down from the rush enough before being battered by something even more gruesome. There were dream sequences which pushed the boundaries of sanity without pulling out of the general narrative and the overall film was incredible without being overworked or overly sentimental in spite of the tragic ending. I think of The House of Frozen Screams in the same way, the only real difference being that this book has zero humour, which I think is for the best as it already ticks all of the necessary boxes without the need to self-parody.
For a ‘first’ novel it’s a damned fine baptism and one which will leave many readers wanting more.
Ramsey Campbell’s most recent project has been a return to his roots in Lovecraftian horror, across a trilogy of novels. The Searching Dead (2016) followed the childhood of Dominic Sheldrake in 1950’s Liverpool, as he and his two friends, Bobby and Jim, work together to thwart their ex-teacher Christian Noble, who has started a mysterious cult that claims to allow people to speak to their deceased loved ones, and has plans to awake something even more monstrous under the remains of a bombed out church. In the sequel, Born To The Dark (2017), Dominic and his friends must reunite in the 1980’s when a clinic which claims to help Dominic’s son Toby with his epileptic fits through the power of hypnosis turns out to be a front for the Nobles’ latest scheme. The Way Of The Worm (2018) picks up another thirty years on in the 2010’s, where following his wife’s death Dominic and his friends make a last ditch attempt to rescue Toby from the clutches of the Nobles’ new church, which promises strange and terrifying revelations to its followers. The final volume in the Three Births of Daoloth brings the trilogy to an appropriately terrifying and cosmic conclusion. Returning to the Brichester Mythos of his early career with the full power of his mature talents has made for some of Campbell’s most ambitious works, and The Way Of The Worm is a powerful and satisfying novel.
The trilogy is a less common format in Horror fiction than in Science Fiction or Fantasy, perhaps because of the difficulty of maintaining an appropriate atmosphere of fear and terror over three successive novels without succumbing to diminishing returns. By setting each novel thirty years on from the last, Campbell is able to concentrate on the individual story in each book whilst building on what has come before and ratcheting up the tension and the stakes. Thus, The Way Of The Worm wastes no time throwing us into an atmosphere of dread, which only intensifies as the story builds towards the awful apocalyptic visions hinted at in the previous two novels. However, the novel starts with Dominic in the aftermath of his wife Lesley’s death, an all too human moment which anchors the novel in his raw grief. Dominic’s sense of loss and loneliness is heartbreakingly explored in some beautiful passages, which nicely set up the themes of isolation and loss which have run through the trilogy. Once the plot gets going, the novel burns through with frightening kinetic energy, and there is never any doubt that Campbell is playing hardball, as appropriately for the final novel in a trilogy, we suffer some painful character deaths and desertions as poor Dominic is increasingly left on his own.
Campbell’s approach of setting the novels across three distinct time periods allows him to explore the same characters in youth, middle age and old age. We get to know Dominic, Bobby and Jim across their whole lives, their hopes and dreams, how these are realised or thwarted, and their moments of pride and regret. Whilst the three novels take place during eruptions of the strange and uncanny, Campbell is equally adept at moulding the contours of everyday life, the hardships and small victories that shape a person as they develop and grow older. The trilogy allows Campbell to fully develop and explore the earthshattering cosmic revelations hinted at in previous books, but it also allows him to reach the core of his characters, as we see how they change but also the characteristics, both strengths and weaknesses, which only become further entrenched with time. By the time we’ve spent three books with them at various stages of their lives, Dominic, Bobby and Jim feel like real people we’ve witnessed grow up and grow old, people that we have a real invested connection with.
This is contrasted with the Nobles, who become more uncanny and horrific as the series continues. The Way Of The Worm uncovers the dark family secrets of the Nobles, as the three generations, Christian, Christina and Christopher, become less human and more the ghastly cosmic inversion of the holy trilogy, the avatar on Earth of Daoloth themselves. Dominic’s attempts to bring them to justice and expose their secrets to the world in the end only serve as a catalyst for their ghastly final transfiguration. Having the same characters as the villain for each book could lead to a case of overfamiliarity, but Campbell handles them with aplomb, making them more uncanny and unsettling with each encounter. As Dominic and his friends are revealed as more and more human to us by getting to know them, the more we see the Nobles the more they slough off their humanity. It is Dominic’s tragedy that each time he tries to defeat them, each time he is brought back into confrontation with them, it only reaffirms the massive role the Nobles have played in his life and the consuming hold they have over his thoughts.
The series’ approach to time also extends to how it handles its setting. They are set in Campbell’s local Liverpool, a city that has seen drastic changes through the 60 years covered by the three books. As much as being a love letter to and exploration of cosmic horror, the novels are a love letter to and exploration of Liverpool itself. Campbell vividly invokes the city of his youth, and the various changes it has been through. From the ruined neighbourhoods of the blitz left to rot into the 50’s to the redeveloped waterfront of the 2010’s, Campbell’s Liverpool is vividly realised and rendered in granular detail so fine you feel you could reach out and touch it. Dominic’s relationship with the city, his nostalgia for the places of his youth that have closed down and boarded up, and his unease with the city’s latest developments, are as crucial as any of the character relationships in the books. Campbell has always had a fascination with the mundane, and his horrors frequently rise from recognisable northern British working class environments, both grounding them in the real and making the familiar uncomfortable again. This aspect is central to the trilogy, as Campbell shows both how these environments and the people who live in them have changed over the time he has been writing but also how his writing has changed and matured to reflect the environment and the people around him. It is this that makes Campbell’s return to the Brichester Mythos of his early short stories so striking and such a triumph – it underlines the themes and concerns that have haunted Campbell’s writing throughout his career, whilst illustrating just how much he has matured and developed as a writer.