Reviewed by Stewart Horn
Luke Arnold is a professional comedian and impressionist, with an almost superhuman ability to imitate anybody.Â But perhaps his greatest trick is pretending to be human, and heâ€™s even fooled himself.
A beloved uncle dies, and while sorting through the uncleâ€™s house, Luke finds a lot of strange clues that all point toward a magical and sinister past.Â His investigation, adventures and subsequent discoveries form the subject of this book.
This is not a typical modern horror novel â€“ itâ€™s more like a fairy tale: there is very little violence; hardly anybody dies, and most of the plot comprises a man wandering roundBritainand seeing disturbing things out of the corner of his eye.Â But that almost-glimpsed movement in the shadows and the sense of unease it can engender â€“ these areCampbellâ€™s favourite tools.Â He uses them to weave a subtle web of menace that gradually grows throughout the novel.Â He can make you look over your shoulder like no-one else, even when the monster is little more substantial than moonlight.
Iâ€™ve been reading Campbellâ€™s fiction for a long time, but this is the first time Iâ€™ve done it with my reviewerâ€™s hat on, paying attention to his style and technique.Â If anything, itâ€™s more fun this way.Â There are descriptive passages here in which someone enters a room, or catches sight of something significant – Campbell gives a single phrase or a throw-away line that conveys not just whatâ€™s there, but what it feels like to be that character in that situation in a certain frame of mind.Â Physical descriptions are barely there at all unless absolutely vital to the scene.Â His dialogue is consistently convincing, his characters completely real, and while itâ€™s not a laugh a minute, there is a lot of sly humour in there.Â Itâ€™s like a how to guide to writing, and not just writing horror.Â And he seems to do it with no effort at all – if this was a maths exam heâ€™d lose marks for not showing the working.
The prose is pared down to the essentials, to the extent that if you miss a word or your eyes slide over a phrase, youâ€™ve probably missed something important, so this is perhaps not a book for that 7am train journey when youâ€™re not fully awake yet.Â Itâ€™s more for those cold winter nights when youâ€™re alone in the house and want something substantial and satisfyingly creepy.