Sunday 2 December 2012

Review: Just Behind You - Ramsey Campbell

Just Behind You [Paperback] by Ramsey CampbellIt's hard to know quite where to start reviewing a new collection of Campbell's short fiction (I say new - this came out in 2009). I must have read over a hundred of his stories by now and for a writer with such a distinctive style as Campbell's, that's bound to led to some slight diminishing returns, no matter the quality of the stories.

I suppose I started thinking along these lines because the first two stories in the book were somewhat disappointing; Fear The Dead being a second-rate rehash of previous Campbell ideas, and Digging Deep seeming to exist only as a means to getting to its weak punchline.

But then, just as the doubts were starting to set in, Campbell follows with two excellent tales - Double Room, a disturbing story of a man alone in a hotel room at night who starts hearing voices (I was initially worried it was going the same way my own The Other Room...). And then The Place Of Revelation which is even better, a homage to Machen's The White People (I think) - something genuinely new and intriguing in Campbell's fiction and one for any future 'best of'.

So the score at this point, two all.

Fortunately, most of the rest of the stories in the collection were better than the first two, with only a few others I didn't particularly care for. (I should say, even the weaker tales in the book are still well-written and interesting, second-rate Campbell still being better than a lot of writer's best work.) Amongst the most compelling were Unblinking, a disturbing story about an academic's jealous descent into madness; The Unbeheld; and the Lovecraft influenced Raised By The Moon.

My favourite story of all was the titular one, a typical Campbell master-class in making the mundane creepy. This is the kind of thing he does so well, something I'm sure most readers of this blog don't need to be told.

So despite some initial misgivings, Campbell's place in my own personal 'Top Five Horror Short Story Writers' chart has been retained. Just Behind You has just been re-released in paperback from PS Publishing (although I bought a snazzy signed copy of the limited hardback) and Campbell fans would be well advised to pick up a copy, along with the other new PS paperbacks.

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