Zero Gauge

Ghosts and Grisly Things by Ramsey Campbell (1998): A collection of excellent short stories from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s by the world’s best horror write, Liverpudlian Ramsey Campbell. Both supernatural and mundane menaces threaten the characters in these stories, from a defunct factor town turned into an amusement park (!) to an ancient Druid holy site now located directly below an overpass. Campbell makes the decaying industrial zones and housing developments of modern England into a world of menacing and destabilizing forces.

Campbell has always been best at building terror out of slightly skewed perceptions of reality which build through the course of a story. As some reviewer or another once noted, it often seems tha narrative voice and/or characters are tripping on something that no one should ever be tripping on; this occurs quite literally in “Through the Walls.” Bad moments in tourism inform the worlds of “The Same in Any Language” and “Where They Lived.”

An M.R. James trope that Campbell mastered very early in his career (he’s been publishing since he was 16) involves slightly askew things glimpsed in the middle or far distance, things which at first appear mundane until one realizes that they keep appearing and disappearing as they (whatever they are) move closer and closer without ever being seen clearly. Do you want to see that strangely distorted human figure clearly? No, you do not, but some of the characters will, and they will not enjoy the experience.

The skewed perceptions of both “ordinary” people and people with mental health issues drive some of the horror as well. The narrator of “The Dead Must Die” is a murderous religious fanatic whose beliefs about blood transfusions and organ transplants are only a few beats off the Jehovah’s Witness party line; the xenophobic senior citizen of “The Sneering” finds the supernatural building on his most basic fears for him and his wife. There isn’t a weak story here. Highly recommended.

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